Opioid crisis

Clemons has been the voice for those living with mental health, addiction issues

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News Tom Clemons can talk … and talk … and talk. Most of what he talks about is pushing for mental health services for Wood County residents – and making fun of himself for talking so much. Clemons, whose propensity for talking is well known, is retiring from his position as director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board next March. “This interview could last several days,” he said with a big grin. “I go off on tangents.” And that is an understatement. Clemons is aware that his gift of gab is nearly legendary – so he is frequently apologizing for rambling. “Oh my God, Tom’s at it again,” he says in his customary self-deprecating manner. But this fall, as Clemons fine tuned his WCADAMHS levy pitch, he was able to rein it in. “It took everything I had,” he whispered. “I can be succinct. I just don’t like being succinct.” Behind him in the WCADAMHS conference room as he was interviewed was a white board with almost unintelligible pen scratchings. It was a visible manifestation of how Clemons’ brain works. Far from neat and tidy, it’s how Clemons thinks. And it’s benefitted Wood County for more than 20 years. Clemons came to the board first as associate director in 1997, then became director in 2012. Prior to that, he worked as a therapist in private practice in the Defiance area. He changed jobs to be closer to home while his and wife Karen’s children were teenagers. “For a few years I really missed being a therapist,” he said. “But I realized I could really affect more people and systems of care,” in his administrative position. Clemons was drawn to psychology early in life. “I had friends in high school who I saw become addicted to drugs and alcohol.” And he had two friends who took their lives. His parents were a huge influence on his career path, with his father being a minister and his mother having a divinity degree and working with senior adults. “I was raised to serve other people,” Clemons said. “I think the idea of service to others has always been ingrained in me.” His belief system is focused on “finding ways of loving our neighbors,” and not just those geographically close. Clemons’ gift of gab was also a trait passed down. “Dad was…

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State Issue 1 drug law proposal faces strong opposition

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Drug offenders in Ohio currently encounter the carrot and the stick. If they participate in treatment and comply with the courts’ orders, they can often avoid jail time. State Issue 1 would only offer the carrot – and take away the stick. That just won’t work, according to local judges, the county prosecutor, sheriffs and state legislators. On Thursday, some of that local opposition to Issue 1 gathered in the Wood County Courthouse atrium. On the surface, Issue 1 may look harmless. It downgrades the vast majority of drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. And it promises to move money saved by not incarcerating drug offenders into drug treatment programs. Proponents of the issue, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, are massively outspending opposition, according to State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. As of a month ago, Issue 1 had raised $4.1 million, with much of that being money from outside Ohio, he said. Meanwhile, there was no organized opposition to the issue. Issue 1 – which would change the state constitution – was not getting much attention until recently, Gardner said. So Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, asked local law enforcement and court officials to join them Thursday to express their concerns. “Our courts are on the front lines for this,” Gavarone said. As officials took their turn at the podium, they were unanimous in their opposition to Issue 1. Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson talked about the newly created ARC program, which is currently working with 70 opiate addicts in the county. The program is having such success because it is able to offer addicts intervention in lieu of jail time. If jail time was not an option, it is unlikely that many of those addicts would go through the difficult treatment process. “Almost all of those efforts will be negated by State Issue 1,” Dobson said. Issue 1 would remove drug offenses from the criminal justice process, to be treated solely by the behavioral health process. It’s a mistake to not include both processes for drug addicts, he said. Dobson has heard from many addicts who seek treatment only because a judge has told them it’s either treatment or jail. Gardner said he has heard the same stories from addicts who don’t seek treatment until they hit rock bottom – which is the…


Drug & alcohol abuse prevention trumps politics in D.C.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Preventing drug and alcohol abuse is not a political issue. Milan Karna saw that firsthand this week as he attended a roundtable discussion hosted by President Donald Trump at the White House. Karna, coordinator of the Wood County Prevention Coalition, was asked to attend the 20-year anniversary of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy’s Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant awards in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Karna was one of six grant recipients present from the 731 programs in the nation. The programs – which work to prevent drug and alcohol abuse by youth – were awarded $90.9 million. The Wood County Prevention Coalition’s piece of the pie was $125,000. This is the fifth year for the local coalition to receive federal funding. “The coalition is neutral,” Karna said. “It’s public service for the betterment of the entire community.” Karna was gratified that the current administration appeared to understand the value of the prevention programs. “I understand people have different feelings about different political figures,” Karna said. Both Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have been long-time supporters of funding the programs – but the support of the administration was unproven. “It was encouraging to hear this administration has agreed to allow this program to continue,” Karna said. During the roundtable discussion, youths from some of the prevention coalitions spoke of the reasons behind their commitment to the cause. President Donald Trump shared his personal story of his brother’s alcohol addiction. “He seemed very sincere,” Karna said. “I could sense that he was personally affected.” Karna has his own personal story that spurs his efforts to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. Karna’s father had issues with alcohol and tobacco. He was able to quit drinking – but had a much tougher time with smoking – even after undergoing a quintuple bypass. “He was asking my brother and me for cigarettes,” shortly after the surgery, Karna said. His father, who grew up in Yugoslavia, started smoking at age 5. He died in 2012 at age 72. “I think that’s something that drives me,” Karna said. It’s a motivator for many. “I think this is an issue a lot of people care about. There is a lot of grief and energy to do something,” Karna said. That may be why the issue has the ability to cross political lines. “Prevention is something…


Opiate addicts find lifeline in local ARC program

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Fighting the opioid crisis can be like aiming at a moving target. Drugs get more potent, people are prone to relapse, and some proposed laws work against success. But it appears that Wood County’s Addiction Response Collaborative is having an impact. “We’re making inroads,” Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson told the county commissioners Tuesday morning. In the six months that the ARC has been up and running, the program has been alerted to 80 individuals who have overdosed. “Some of those have overdosed multiple times,” Dobson said. Of those 80, five died. While tragic, that number is far less than the 16 people who died of opiate overdoses in 2016 in Wood County. The ARC team, made up of Belinda Brooks and Det. Sgt. Ryan Richards, had contact with the 75 addicts who overdosed, three of whom refused help. Of the addicts, 55 cases were referred to ARC by law enforcement officers, and 22 were referred by family members. “Those are great numbers,” Dobson said of those referred by family. That means the word is getting out to more than just law enforcement. “I was pleasantly surprised. People are contacting the program.” Of those working with the ARC program, four overdosed a second time and are currently in treatment. “That’s a great number when you’re talking about 75 people.” The ARC Quick Response Team responds to overdose incidents and other addiction-related incidents and calls. The team initiates a conversation with the survivor and family members. The goal is to encourage and offer assistance in obtaining treatment and counseling through multiple local behavioral health providers. During the past six months, Brooks and Richards have made 611 contacts with the 75 addicts – following up with them, encouraging them, looking for any gaps in the services, Dobson said. In addition to the Quick Response Team, the program works with programs in the court system, including a diversion program, analyzing the current intervention process being used by the court and the implementation of a court docket specific to addiction. Initially, some of the law enforcement offices in the county were suspect of working with the ARC. “There was more law enforcement resistance,” Dobson said. Some police agencies feared the ARC would take over cases. “That’s not our intention. We step in with ‘What can we do to help?’” In fact, Richards often shares information…


Dose of reality – drugs in workplace costly to business

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independence News   The opiate abuse crisis is not only taking a wrecking ball to families, but it is also wreaking havoc in the workplace. U.S. businesses lose an estimated $42 billion a year in loss of productivity, according to national statistics. Some companies have difficulty finding employees who can pass the initial drug testing. “Businesses can’t find employees who are clean,” said Sarad Nerad, community relations with the drug company Alkermes that makes Vivitrol, the drug that helps addicts shake opiates. “This has huge financial impacts on us as employers.” Then there are the collateral consequences of poor attendance by addicts, accidents on the job, and theft in the workplace. “As a taxpayer, what does this cost us,” Nerad asked during a “lunch and learn” gathering at the Wood County Educational Service Center about drugs in the workplace. The statistics presented at the “Dose of Reality” program were grim: 20 percent of Americans take five or more prescription drugs. 50 percent of those are used improperly. In the average U.S. company, 15 to 17 percent of the employees abuse substances. Ohio is “way worse than the rest of the U.S.,” Nerad said. Overdose is the leading cause of death for those under 55 in “Generation RX.” 217 Americans died while at work in 2016 due to overdoses. Nearly half of prime-age men not in the labor force take pain medication daily. The “perfect storm” of the opiate crisis was created when there was an over-prescribing of opioids, lack of treatment access, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and health insurance issues, Nerad said. Hooked on opiates are teens, pastors, farmers. “It’s not the guy underneath the bridge anymore,” she said. “It doesn’t discriminate.” Nerad herself is a former addict. She became hooked on opiates at age 15, and by age 17 had been through two treatment programs. She believes in the value of investing in recovery programs. “There are solutions. There are things we know that help,” she said. Statistics show that employees in recovery miss less work than the general workforce, Nerad said. For every dollar spent on employee support programs, businesses get more in return. “They are going to be loyal. They are going to work hard,” she said of recovering addicts. “Give them a second chance. A job is treatment with a purpose,” Nerad said. “I have a reason to wake up…


Registration underway for July 18 workshop on opioid addiction and older adults

From BGSU OFFICE OF MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Registration is now open for the Opioid Crisis Workshop: The Unseen Impact on Older Adults, to be held from noon to 5 p.m. July 18 at Penta Career Center. Guests will learn from key leaders from northwest Ohio who will discuss the impact of the opioid crisis on middle-aged and older adults. Information on opioid use, misuse, abuse and dependency will be provided, along with information on alternative strategies for pain management and community resources. This workshop will also address the unique challenges faced by grandparents who are raising the children of the opioid epidemic. The workshop is free for grandparents raising their grandchildren and individuals aged 60 and older. For others, the cost is $25 per person. CEUs are available for social workers, counselors and marriage family therapists. Registration is required. Guests can download an application at https://areaofficeonaging.com/event/4930 to register. More information is available at bgsu.edu/oai. The Bowling Green State University Optimal Aging Institute, the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio Inc. and the Wood County Committee on Aging are hosting the workshop. Guests with disabilities are requested to indicate if they need special services, assistance or appropriate modifications to fully participate in this event by contacting Accessibility Services at access@bgsu.edu or 419-372-8495 prior to the event.


More levy funds sought for opiate, mental health services

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Tom Clemons would love to not have to ask Wood County voters for more money. But then he would also love if the opiate crisis weren’t killing people, and if the state and federal government would not have cut funding. So on Tuesday, Clemons, the executive director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, made his pitch to the county commissioners for the agency’s levy request. The board will be seeking a replacement 1-mill levy plus and an additional 0.3-mill levy. The levies will be on the November ballot. Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said that the commissioners will have to discuss the levy requests before deciding whether or not they will get their blessing as the levies go on the ballot. “We listened to what he had to say,” she said of Clemons’ presentation. “We’re still at the point where we’re absorbing what he had to say. We’ll be discussing it. We want to make sure it is the right fit for Wood County and for the ADAMHS board. The current 1-mill levy generates about $2.9 million. The new levies will bring in an additional $1.3 million. Clemons said the additional funding is needed to keep up with growing needs. “First and foremost, we think the opiate epidemic is costing us a little over $700,000 a year,” Clemons said last week. The costs include inpatient and outpatient detox services, recovery housing, clinical services for the Vivitrol program in jail, services for addicted women who are pregnant, help with the Addiction Response Collaboration, short-term residential treatment, help providing medication like Naloxone, outpatient programs, and school-based prevention programs. “It’s touching everyone,” Julie Launstein, ADAMHS finance director, said of the opiate crisis. But it appears that Wood County’s opiate programs are working according to Chris Streidl, manager of clinical programs with ADAMHS, who explained that this county has a significantly lower death rate than those being seen in Lucas and Hancock counties. “We see the numbers,” Clemons said. “This epidemic is not going to go away any time in the near future.” At the same time as the opiate crisis, the ADAMHS board still needs to deal with other mental health, alcohol and drug addiction issues. “We’re going to have to look at doing some more mental health housing,” Clemons said. That will include more 24/7 supervised housing and more…