“The Heroin Project” Part II: The Brain Of An Addict And Solutions To The Problem

Judge Dan Emge speaks to those present at the Nashville showing of “The Heroin Project”.

Continued From “The Heroin Project” Part I: A Call To Action, published in the May 17, 2017 edition of The Nashville News and online here.

By Alex Haglund

      This story is a continuation of the story about an event on Thursday, April 20 which included a screening of “The Heroin Project” and a discussion about narcotics at the Nashville Community Center.

Those present for the discussion included Alison Brendel of the Human Service Center in Okawville, Sheriff Danny Bradac, State’s Attorney Dan Bronke, Coroner Mark Styninger, Judge Dan Emge, Public Defender Dennis Hatch, and Dave Admire, father of Brad Admire, a recovering addict. Both Brad and Dave were in “The Heroin Project”.

Heather Todd is an Okawville resident and a Clinton County educator; she presented the film at screenings in both Okawville and Nashville.

In the audience were members of the community, including several people who work in healthcare in Washington County, including County Health Department Administrator Sharon Frederking and Washington County Hospital physician Dr. Ginger Fewell.

Mental Changes And Physical Addiction

Some of the discussion covered in Part 1 of this story included talk about of the current heroin epidemic having its genesis with the use and then abuse of legal prescription painkillers.

With regards to the addiction – psychological and physical dependence on narcotics – it can actually begin early on, when someone is taking pills, before they ever even take the step to start using heroin itself.

Not only can these changes embed themselves into the brain early on, they can also take longer to exorcise than addictions to other drugs like alcohol, methamphetamines or even cigarettes.

As a result of how long it can take to kick the habit, even well-intentioned addicts can find themselves relapsing during a lengthy cleanup period.

An addict needs about a year of supervised time in rehabilitation and recovery. Of course, that isn’t easy to do, especially since a period of treatment that is paid for by insurance or public aid is usually 90 days or less.

“Rehab needs to be longer,” said Admire.

“And it’s too expensive,” said Emge. “It’s too expensive for these families.”

Drug Court In Washington County?

Emge, Bronke, Bradac and Hatch spoke some about what they were doing at what they were planning on doing on their end of things – the courts.

Drug court, a system where the courts and drug addiction treatment are intertwined is one goal that they said they are moving towards.

The reasons drug court is attractive is in its results. Drug court has a rate of a 50-percent of those who enroll graduating – so it isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. Of that number, only about 30-percent will re-offend.

That 30-percent is, “a very low figure,” said Emge, “particularly compared to D.O.C.” People that do receive a prison sentence typically reoffend at something closer to 90-percent.

Drug court isn’t an easy option either though, because Washington County and rural places like it, are harder up for economic and healthcare resources than larger or more urban population centers are.

Even with these uphill challenges though, those involved in the courts are trying to take the first steps in that direction.

“Right now,” Hatch said, “What we do is that you don’t get out unless you have a bed.”

Hatch stated that if a person made bail, there wasn’t much they could do to keep them there, but if they didn’t, they could keep them locked up until they were in treatment of some form or another. The “bed” Hatch referred to is a spot in a rehab program.

A future goal is to have a Redeploy program set up. This grant would bring about $140,000 for Washington and Perry Counties, with the goal of that going towards having beds set up and ready for addicts at any time. They could turn themselves in, give up their drugs and go into treatment, but in order for that to be a viable option, the beds need to be ready and there needs to be personnel ready to help get people into them when the time comes.

Searching For Ideas, Resources

The problem with a lot of the programs that are available in Illinois is that they simply don’t scale well to low population density rural areas or they just aren’t available at all in rural communities.

So many rehabilitation programs, so many chances for addicts to get clean, pivot on quick action and open opportunities for rehab at the moment the person in question realizes that they need help.

In Washington County, things will have a hard time moving quick enough to get people the help that they need, when they need it.

For instance, right now, if there is an addict who has been arrested, is at county jail, and is willing to try rehab, they can be referred to the Human Service Center in Okawville where Alison Brendel works. But Brendel is only able to be there two days a week (other days she works at other offices) and only one of those two days is for substance abuse, the other is for other mental health issues.

The Redeploy project would make it easier for addicts to get into treatment straight away and would limit some of the interaction with the criminal justice system that might scare some away, but the Sheriff’s Department in Washington county only has a handful of deputies on duty at any given time, so they can’t have someone just waiting at the ready to take an addict to treatment when they need it, and that instantaneous readiness is one of those things that makes the program work as well as it does.

In the end, Washington County doesn’t have the money, or the established facilities that some of the larger communities might, but people here do have a willingness to help, and tapping into that might be the best strategy for battling addiction here.

Dr. Fewell suggested that if a licensed rehabilitation facility was what was needed, “we have a whole hospital that is practically empty. I don’t know, but maybe that could be a licensed site.”

Fewell also stated that in terms of stopping addictions at their start, she could speak with other area doctors on not prescribing as much in the way of narcotic painkillers, and educating the public as to why they would not be prescribing as much.

In either using the hospital as a treatment facility or in doctors there endeavoring to limit their prescriptions for painkillers, Fewell stated that the public should let her and other doctors know, especially since the hospital was a public entity owned by the people of the community.

Sharon Frederking of the Health Department also offered to help bring whatever resources she could together and stated that efforts related to this issue could easily be linked up with similar efforts by the Communities That Care Coalition  through Hoyleton Youth and Family Services.

There are a lot of things that can be done though, and not all of them are things that were discussed or even perhaps thought of, by those present at this event. Which is why this appeal is being put into the paper – you may have an idea or way of solving a problem that no one else has had yet.

Some of what can be done to help addicts to recover is as simple as just providing a solution to boredom for them once they are past the initial clean up.

“People say, all around, that boredom is their biggest relapse causer,” Brendel said.

Churches that needed volunteers for work to be done, or who could spare volunteers to help an addict get to their meetings or counseling sessions could be just the help a person fighting an addiction needs.

For more on how communities and people of faith might be able to help, please see “Seeking Voices Of Faith, People Of Faith” on Page A6 of the May 24, 2017 edition of The Nashville News.

This is too complicated a problem to offer any simple solutions, but no matter what plans come out, the way we will get through is by banding together and taking it on as a community, as a team. If you have some idea, or something that you think you can offer for that team, towards that goal, please read more below or contact one of us listed here and tell us what you think can be done.

Information And Contacts

To read Part 1 of this story, please pick up a copy of the May 17, 2017 paper or visit nash-news.com/features/heroin-project-part-call-action/

Heather Todd has a copy of the film, and is happy to organize a screening of it. She can be reached at (618) 599-8967 or at ptandht@frontier.com.

Dennis Hatch can be reached (618) 314-4312 or at dennishatchlaw@gmail.com.

The Washington County Health Department can be reached at (618) 327-3644, ask for Sharon Frederking or Babs Frederking.

Judge Dan Emge, State’s Attorney Dan Bronke and Sheriff Danny Bradac can all be reached at the Washington County Courthouse, (618) 327-4800, follow the menus to get to their various extensions.

More information on “The Heroin Project” film can be found at facebook.com/heroinprojectdoc to purchase a copy at $20 each, send an email to ashleyseering@gmail.com.

I can be reached at The Nashville News office line at (618) 327-3411, or on my own phone at (708) 309-9633, or by email at either ahaglund@mail.com or news@nashnews.net.