By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Wood County has its first employees assigned specifically to battle the opiate crisis.
Sixteen people died of opiate overdoses in the county last year, according to the Wood County Coroner’s Office. In response to a survey of local first responders, 16 departments said they responded to 83 opiate overdoses last year, and administered the life-saving drug Naloxone 60 times. And in an 18-month period, the county prosecutor’s office saw about 130 drug cases.
Getting addicts in treatment, and getting them back after relapses are important, Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson said during a meeting with the county commissioners. The average person experiences seven relapses during their three to five years of trying to get free of opiates.
On Tuesday, Dobson and Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn announced the implementation of a new program in the prosecutor’s office to battle the opiate and drug epidemic. The program has been named the Addiction Response Collaborative, or ARC.
Earlier this year, Dobson – who lost a stepson to opiate addiction – introduced his four-tiered plan for dealing with the opiate epidemic in Wood County. The plan called for the creation of a quick response team, a pre-trial diversion program in the prosecutor’s office, an intervention in lieu of sentencing program in the courts, and the establishment of a drug docket in the courts.
The program team includes a Drug Addiction and Abuse Response Coordinator hired by the prosecutor’s office through funding from the Wood County Commissioners, the Wood County ADAMHS Board, and the Wood County Health District.
Filling the position is Luckey resident Belinda Brooks, who knows from experience the horrors of opiate addictions and the hopes for recovery. Brooks, whose daughter battled opiates for several years, formed SOLACE of Northwest Ohio, a group that provides services for family members of addicts.
Her daughter, now 25, was first prescribed percocets after a serious ATV accident seven years ago. It wasn’t long till she was addicted. Brooks, who knew nothing about opiates, believed it couldn’t be that bad since it was a prescribed medication.
She soon saw how horrible it could be. Brooks learned that by hiding the addiction and helping her daughter clean up money problems, she was fueling her daughter’s addiction.
“It was three years of complete hell,” Brooks said. “Your lives change forever. You have to change your parenting.”
Her daughter’s rock bottom came when she was charged with nine felony counts in Toledo. Brooks cut ties with her daughter and took over raising her grandson.
She remembers the words she told her daughter that day. “I love you. But I’m done. Don’t ever call me again unless you’re in treatment.” Her daughter went to jail and they did not speak for six months. It’s now been almost two years since she has been clean.
But as a parent, Brooks knows relapse could be right around the corner. “I worry every day,” she said. “The destruction it causes is devastating,” resulting in many aging grandparents taking over care of their grandchildren.
Dobson said Brooks was a perfect fit for the new position.
“Belinda has been passionately advocating on behalf of this population for years,” Dobson said in the press release. “She’s really already been doing this job without a title or funding. We’re really just giving her the ability and room to focus on her work full time. We knew she was the right fit almost as soon as she sat down at the interview table.”
And Brooks is looking forward to reaching out to more families in need. “I’m beyond excited to be working with all of the incredible agencies on a collaborative effort to combat the heroin and opiate epidemic.”
As the other part of the ARC program, the sheriff’s office has made a fulltime, permanent assignment of Det. Sgt. Ryan Richards to the ARC team.
“Ryan had already been working with Lucas County’s DART team, and engaging in some of this cooperative effort even before the discussion over this new program began,” Wasylyshyn stated in a press release.
“We think Ryan is going to do some great work in this new position. The knowledge and contacts he walks in the door with are a real advantage,” Dobson said in the press release.
Richards said he is “looking forward to assisting residents of Wood County who are struggling with addiction issues they are facing along with working with other law enforcement agencies in the county to combat the opiate epidemic.” This position was created through a grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
One of the main objectives of the program will be to develop a Quick Response Team, which will respond to overdose incidents and other addiction-related incidents and calls. The team will initiate 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, such as A Renewed Mind, which was a co-applicant on the grant and will be offering programs and support for the ARC team.
In addition to the Quick Response Team, the program will be responsible to organize or evaluate several other 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. “We can’t ignore criminal conduct, even if it is addiction-driven, but hopefully we can address both the conduct and the addiction motivating it. That results in crime reduction and that results in a safer community,” Dobson said in the press release.
Anyone struggling with addition can call the ARC line at 419-373-3900.