Drug abuse and addiction have become a continually growing issue for nearly every community, but with treatment there is also hope.
Joe Adray, chief executive director of FRS, described treatment as giving people a “tool kit.”
At FRS, Adray said the journey through addiction begins with an assessment process, which “gives us a picture of where they’re at in the substance use disorder spectrum.”
From there, a treatment plan is designed for that person.
Group therapy, Adray said, is very effective. During group therapy clients receive education on substance abuse and relapse and also discuss their struggles. In addition, their progress is monitored and they are subject to random drug tests.
After about five to six weeks of intensive group therapy, clients step down to having treatment about one to two days each week.
Ten to eight weeks later, Adray said, FRS works with clients to determine when they are ready to leave counseling and return to the community.
Adray said that medication-assisted treatments have better chances of success. He added that the key, however, is that this type of treatment is not only assisted by medication. Counseling is still a vital part of the process. When both medication and counseling are combined, Adray said, “You have the greatest success rate.”
Adray discussed the grip that drugs have across the nation, saying that nearly two million people struggle with opiate use or dependency. Forty-six people, he said, die every day from opiate overdose in the United States.
In fact, Adray said, opiate overdose has “surpassed” car accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths.
Opiate use, he said, is a “tough issue to deal with,” adding that it affects not only brain chemistry, but also brain structure.
And Highland County, he said, “is in the middle of all that.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), a total of 40 people died in Highland County from unintentional drug overdoses between 2003 and 2014. Eleven of those occurred last year, the report added.
In comparison, the Associated Press reported in September that a “record number of Ohioans died from drug overdoses last year,” with a total of 2,482 lives lost. That number, the article added, represented an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
And, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, health care costs for illicit drug use cost the nation $11 billion each year.
Locally, Adray said that FRS sees a success rate of about 75 percent.
“We believe it’s a life and death job that we do,” he said. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”
Adray said that FRS is also in the process of starting Vivitrol, which he described as an “injectable blocker” given on a monthly basis. Vivitrol, he said, takes away cravings for opiates, but is also expensive, costing roughly $1,500 each month.
Adray said there are numerous factors that can affect success in treatment. The “biggest,” he said, is that people stay in treatment or in an organized support group for at least a year.
Also, he said a support structure, whether through family or friends; a “stable environment” in terms of housing; and employment, can all play a significant role in treatment success.
Employment, he added, is “a huge step for (clients),” as they can “begin to have some success in life.”
Also crucial, Adray said, is that clients “begin to investigate their own underlying issues.” He said people need to ask: “What prompted you to begin using those substances?”
The ultimate goal of treatment, Adray said, is to find answers that will “last a lifetime.”
Kristine Kinnison echoed that idea in a phone interview with The Times-Gazette. “I got a new life,” she said of her journey through addiction.
Kinnison described a May article in The Times-Gazette, which detailed a hearing in the Hillsboro Municipal Court. That article, she said, “actually helped me.”
As previously reported, Kinnison pled guilty to two counts of first-degree misdemeanor theft last spring. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail on each case, with 120 of those days suspended. Kinnison could be furloughed to inpatient treatment.
At that time, Hillsboro Municipal Court Judge David H. McKenna asked her, “Are you a drug addict?” Kinnison answered then that she was and later told the judge that the drug use “needs to stop.”
According to Kinnison, she was in jail for six days. After that, she went to Kentucky, where she stayed in a medical detox center for seven days. Kinnison was then transferred to The Ridge, a residential treatment center in Lexington.
Kinnison said that she had been through The Ridge’s program before but, “I’m not sure I was ready at the time.”
Now, Kinnison is in treatment at FRS, which she attends three days a week. She also attends other meetings four days a week and periodically runs meetings at the jail where she and others share their stories with inmates.
Kinnison said she is currently receiving Vivitrol shots, which she described as “a good aid.” She said she has been clean for nearly five months.
“It’s been a very good journey,” Kinnison said, adding that she was ready to start it “when I went into that courtroom” in May.
“I was dying, and I couldn’t stop,” she said.
Kinnison said that she “started using really young,” when she was 12 years old. Since then, she said, “Some of the challenges were the stigma.”
She described the “secret life of a heroin addict,” saying, “I was trying to portray someone I wasn’t.” And that life, she said, is “so widespread.”
Above all, Kinnison said that she would tell others facing addiction that there is “so much help.”
“They have to reach out and trust somebody,” she said. “They need to be honest with themselves.”
Recovery for heroin, she added, “really is possible.”
Kinnison also said that treatment does not stop after a 30-day program. “Once you put down the drugs, you have to work on yourself,” she said. “Your addiction doesn’t go away. It’s always waiting for you.”
Similarly, McKenna said in an interview that, “An addict never stops being an addict … There’s always that danger of relapse, or of death.”
Success with rehab, the judge said, is “measured in different ways,” though the “ideal scenario” is for a person to have a drug-free life. If someone is able to stay clean for two years, he added, they will typically stay clean for the significant future.
“The people are trying,” McKenna said. “Not all of them obviously, but there are significant numbers of people who are trying.”
Increased access to health care in recent years, he said, has given more people access to treatment. He also discussed Vivitrol, which he said seems “to have been working very well.”
“In most cases, it cancels the cravings and allows the body to gradually repair itself,” the judge said.
And, McKenna added, the court sees people winning their battles with addiction “on a real regular basis.”
Those success stories, McKenna said are “the reason I come to court – to try and help the people who will save their own lives, to see the people who are taking control and getting things straight and to encourage them. That’s what I’m happiest about.”
And while success is possible, treatment remains a “tough road,” as described by Highland County Probation Department Director Jeremy Ratcliff.
Like McKenna, Ratcliff said rehab varies based on the type of drug. He also described success with Vivitrol shots. And, along with support and employment, Ratcliff said that transportation to and from treatment is a “big deal.”
Locally, he said he has seen agencies connecting more and more in recent years. “It’s kind of realizing that … one system can’t really combat this issue,” he said.
Instead, treatment centers, courts, and law enforcement agencies are “coming together,” Ratcliff said, all working toward the ultimate goal – “helping folks get rehabilitated and be clean and sober.”
Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.