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Buried by addiction: Workshop tackles local opioid crisis

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Photo credit: Design by Kody Kieler

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Written by: Zachary D. ElickApril 06, 2017

Written by: Zachary D. Elick

Several local leaders will host a workshop, “Impacting the Community: Solutions & Resources for the Addiction Crisis,” to educate the public on the opioid problem in Allen County and the surrounding area. Opioids are a class of drug that includes heroin and prescription painkillers.

Featuring panel discussions, seminars and speakers from the community, the workshop will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 22 at Ivy Tech’s Public Safety Academy, 7602 Patriot Crossing.

“It’s important for everyone to realize that what is going on right now in our community is an epidemic. It truly is,” said one of the event’s hosts, Alice Jordan-Miles, director of IPFW’s Behavioral Health & Family Studies Institute.

Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahon and Fort Wayne Police detective Kevin Hunter will be the other two hosts of Impacting the Community.

At this point in 2016, 80 drug overdoses occurred in Allen County, yet this year there has already been 156, Jordan-Miles said.

The increase in drug overdoses in the county is not surprising when considering national statistics. Over 60 percent of the 51,000 overdose deaths in 2015 were caused by opioids, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the total number of opioid-related overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999.

One of the factors driving the crisis is how readily available certain opioids, such as heroin, have become.

“I’ve been told that it’s easier to get heroin on our streets than marijuana,” Jordan-Miles said.

Making matters worse, she said, many times heroin dealers embellish their product by mixing it with deadly chemicals, such as fentanyl.

The tentative agenda for Impacting the Community will cover topics such as mental health, the impact on families and resources available to those struggling with addiction, Jordan-Miles said.

Hunter will talk about the “scope of heroin and opioids as it relates to impacting our community” and McMahon will discuss “how the brain contributes to addiction,” she said.

Speaker Mickey Ashpole, who is a recovering addict, will discuss his experiences getting clean in a segment called “A testimony of Hope.” Ashpole is the director of national outreach for Waters Edge Recovery, a drug treatment center in Florida.

The workshop will end with a panel featuring Judge Wendy Davis, Tom Heil and Ashpole. Heil is a recovering addict and the director of spiritual outreach for the Associated Churches and runs The Landing, a program giving guidance to at-risk teenagers.

Being concerned about the opioid crisis is not only a part of her job, Jordan-Miles said, it is also a very personal matter. Her 26-year-old son has been addicted to heroin for several years and is currently missing, leaving her and her husband to help raise his two daughters with their mother.

Frustrated by her son’s relapses, Jordan-Miles said she feels compelled to spread the word about opioid addiction to others.

“I may not be able to save my kid, but I may be able to save someone else’s kid,” she said. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it. And because he is over 18 there’s nothing I can do.”

Jordan-Miles said it was important to her to include family members of people addicted to opioids because they often suffer in silence due to the negative stigma of opioid addiction.

“(They) don’t want to stand up in a rotary (club) and say, ‘Hey, my kid’s addicted to heroin.’ It’s not a very proud moment,” she said. “We have a bunch of support groups, but there really isn’t a support group for families with loved ones who are addicted to heroin.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about opioid addiction is that it is an “accidental addiction” that one incidentally picks up after being prescribed pills by a doctor, Jordan-Miles said. In reality, it is more complex than that.

“The brain has a lot to do with this particular addiction and it’s primarily a disease, and we need to start looking at it as a disease,” she said. “And once we start doing that … I don’t think it would be as much of an epidemic.”

Not only does our society need to start treating opioid addiction differently, Jordan-Miles said, but it also needs to start “championing” mental illness in general and “stop making it into a taboo.”

The National Crisis

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on March 29 creating a new opioid commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The aim of the commission will be to “study ways to combat and treat the scourge of drug abuse, addiction, and the opioid crisis,” according to a White House press release.

“Look. What we need to come to grips with is that addiction is a disease,” Christie said March 29 during an interview on NBC’s “Today Show.” “No life is disposable. We can help people by giving them appropriate treatment.”

However, some have noted since the announcement of the commission that Trump’s proposed budget includes cuts to agencies that provide important drug addiction research, such as the National Institute of Health and the CDC.

The proposed budget, released last month, does include $2 billion for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which the president has touted numerous times as an important step in fighting the opioid crisis.