SIDNEY — Drugs and overdoses are still a problem in Shelby County. And it’s one problem that Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart is hoping will change with the opening of the STAR House.
“In 2018, we had 11 deaths from overdoses,” said Lenhart in his weekly interview. This week he was joined by Sgt. Karla Pleiman, jail administrator, and Shannan Byers, STAR House director. STAR stands for Sheriff’s Treatment and Recovery house.
“Three of the overdoses were transported to Dayton and they died there,” said Lenhart. “A woman was pregnant and the child was stillborn due to the mother’s use of drugs. So that’s a total of 18 deaths for the county.”
In 2017, there were 17 overdose deaths, he said. In 2016, there were 11 drug-related deaths.
“The drug issues are not going away,” said Lenhart. “In 2018, we had 313 cases of overdoses that we know of.”
Many of those lives, he said, were saved with the use of Narcan.
“Overdoses are becoming so common, so ordinary — with all due respect to the people involved — we don’t pay attention to overdose deaths,” said Lenhart.
The local jail, he said, houses local inmates along with federal inmates. Many of them have their drug of choice which they used before entering the court system and being incarcerated.
“Persons who use drugs must report to the medical personnel (at the jail),” said Pleiman. The drug of choice includes Carfentanyl, fentanyl, meth, cocaine and heroin.
“They are using a variety of drugs and mixing them together,” said Pleiman.
Lenhart said there’s an average of 175 to 180 inmates at the jail. Of those, approximately 80 percent are involved with drugs.
“They are using drugs, failing their probation (because of drugs) and waiting on trials because of drugs,” said Lenhart.
“It’s extremely sad to see the women who are incarcerated,” he said. “We have some who have had their children taken away from them. Some of the children are gone from them forever.”
“People are under a misconception that there’s more meth problems,” said Byers, who was a counselor with Consolidated Care in Urbana before being named the STAR House director. “We’re seeing a mixture of meth with heroin or fentanyl and Carfentanil. In Franklin County, they had 26 overdoses in a 24-hour period. Five individuals resulted in their death from fentanyl.”
Drugs that are being used illegally in Shelby County, said Lenhart, are coming into the county from surrounding counties.
“If you take a gram which is in a sugar packet and compare it to Carfentanyl, you would have 50,000 lethal doses of the drug,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart is hoping the STAR House will have a positive impact in Shelby County and reduce the number of overdoses and drug-related deaths. He said the county courts and judges are on board with the new STAR House. There’s a waiting list of inmates who want to participate in the program.
“We anticipate the STAR House opening the end of April, beginning of May,” said Lenhart.
The STAR House will provide transitional house for a person who has been in the Shelby County Jail. Though the program is voluntary, a local judge still oversees the person.
“We had a situation last week where a 22-year-old man had been out of the penitentiary for two weeks,” said Lenhart. “He got arrested again. There’s not much good happening in penitentiaries. We think the STAR House will make a difference.”
Support for the STAR House, said Lenhart, has come from a variety of sources including the Shelby County Commissioners, Tri-County Board of Recovery & Mental Health Services, Shelby County United Way, Upper Valley Career Center, Shelby County Jobs and Family Services, Family Resource Center and Community Housing.
“We have 12 to 15 inmates who ride their bicycles to work every day,” said Lenhart. “We couldn’t do this program without the support of local industries. I’d like to thank them forgiving our folks the opportunity to work.
“I think it’s exciting, what we’re trying to do,” he said. “And we didn’t have to ask for any additional tax money because of all the partners we have in the program.”
STAR House will be able to house up to 20 men when it’s at full occupancy.
“WQe’re going to start up with five and build up to 10,” said Pleiman. “We want to see how the program is doing and then go from there.”
Lenhart predicts within a few months of STAR House’s opening more than 10 men will be involved with the program.
“This will free up space in the regular jail,” said Lenhart. “We’ll be able to house more inmates from other places. That will generate more money for the county. It’s a win-win-win situation all around.”
Pleiman said the inmate’s recovery process will begin the day he enters the jail. Counseling, both individual and group, will be provided. A medical assessment and assistance will be given to the person. Once it’s determined the inmate would be a good candidate for the STAR House program, he will be referred to Byers.
Byers will then review the information and determine if the man should be accepted into the program.
The person must be employed while he is incarcerated and participate in classes such as Workplace Expectations. There are also life skills classes offered by Upper Valley Career Center for them to take while they are incarcerated.
“The residents will also be required to pay rent — $50 per week,” said Byers. “They will take life skills classes and begin the transition into a house. They will be required to attend NA or AA meetings. We want them to have a solid foundation for when they leave here.
“We want them to maintain all the tools they learned here once they are on the outside,” she said.
Lenhart said many of the inmates will be learning basic life skills such as doing laundry, shopping for food and preparing meals.
“To you and me, it sounds lit it’s not a big deal,” said Lenhart. “Some of them have never had to do it before. They’ve struggled to find a job and struggled to hold the job.”
The STAR House program, he said, will help them deal with life’s challenges.
“We’re the first Sheriff’s Office in Ohio — and maybe the nation — who’se doing a program like this,” said Lenhart. “It’s a unique program since the Sheriff’s Office is running it. With its geographic location, the inmate is 40 steps from being back in jail.”
Many of the men who will be living at STAR House will be on probation and will have to follow those rules also.
“Each individual will have a different recovery schedule,” said Byers.”At a minimum, they’ll be here 90 days. At a maximum it could be a year. We’ll look at local community houses as a graduation house. The person might not be ready to live on their own and needs someone to check on them once a week.
“We’re providing the structure and tools for them to succeed,” she said.
The first 30 days at the STAR House the person will have minimal contact with the outside world. They will attend meetings, appointments and look for employment if they don’t already have a job.
“There are four phases to the program,” said Byers. “They’ll work their way up and gain more privileges. We want them to become healthy again.”
Lenhart said drug testing will be done on a regular basis.
“We want them to become productive members of the community,” said Pleiman.
In the past, said Lenhart, the person with the addiction “dried” out in jail. Once their sentence was completed, they were sent back to their old neighborhood where the addiction began again.
The STAR House program, said Lenhart, will break the cycle and get the person healthy and back to work.
Byers said STAR House will give the men hope, something they haven’t had in a long time.
“We want to give them hope where they have felt hopeless,” said Byers. “They have low self-esteem. We want them to be able to experience hope again.”
Lenhart said STAR House is only for men. Byers said many woman are in a cycle where they can’t break away from the person that is providing a distraction or co-dependency for them.
“A lot more men request more services than women,” said Pleiman. “After they get out, we want to make sure they don’t stray from the services provided.”
“As a male, I find it hard to understand how a woman can be dependant on a man who has caused her harm,” said Lenhart.
He said in the 1970’s he wrote a paper for college about the ratio of men and women prisoners. Back then it was one woman for every 57 men in jail. Today, the ratio is one woman for every five men.
“And the No. 1 reason this has changed is because of drugs,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart said the STAR House concept was an idea developed by Pleiman.
The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.