After years of leading the nation in overdose death rates, Ohio Valley communities are looking for new ways to deal with the addiction crisis. A national nonprofit organization promotes and partners with programs that do just that.
The 37 programs selected look beyond traditional methods of addressing addiction, which often rely on a person’s “force of will,” or expect a short period of treatment to end addiction.
“This is a disease that begins in adolescence and continues on into adulthood. To think it could be magically cured in four weeks is a mess,” Executive Vice President For Community Engagement Kimberly Clapp said.
The Addiction Policy Forum is a national nonprofit organization focused on eliminating addiction as a major health problem.
The innovative programs also align with the Forum’s goals of helping patients, improving treatment and educating the public about addiction.
“Using the science that we know about the brain disease of addiction,” Clapp said. “And 50 percent of our country still doesn’t believe that addiction is a brain disease.”
Those working in the programs the Forum highlights say it’s time to focus on solutions that are forward-thinking, collaborative and that can be recreated in other communities in order to combat the crisis.
One program in Huntington, West Virginia, applies that model to nearly every aspect of the treatment and recovery process.
Micheal Haney stands in a renovated building that used to be a CVS pharmacy. It’s now a one-stop shop for those needing help with addiction.
He is the executive director of PROACT, an outpatient treatment center that aims to guide patients from diagnosis all the way through recovery.
“We have one mission, addiction work,” Haney said. “But we focus on addiction work as the whole person.”
PROACT is a collaborative effort. The main partnership links Valley Health, a Health Center Program that serves eastern Kentucky, southeast Ohio and southern West Virginia, and Marshall Health, which operates through Marshall University’s medical school.
“We wanted to set competition aside to actually do something meaningful together,” Haney said. “Some things Valley Health can do Marshall Health can’t, some things Marshall Health can do Valley Health can’t.”
The combined resources allow them to take walk-in clients for immediate addiction treatment — something that isn’t too common, but Haney believes is critical.
“The number one reason you lose patients is when you schedule an appointment, anything over 48 hours, your retention rate drops off by 50 percent,” he said. “So we tell people at the moment you want to come in, come in, walk in the door, you’ll see a therapist.”
That therapist guides the patient through an assessment, develops a diagnosis, and then recommends a personalized plan for treatment with the patient. That plan can take an abstinence-based approach, include medication-assisted treatment, and even incorporate a spiritual aspect.
With the help of other local partners like Marshall University and St. Mary’s and Cabell Huntington hospitals, a patient can also have housing, transportation and employment needs addressed.
The shared resources allow them to see nearly 500 patients a week, according to Haney’s estimates.
PROACT also works to educate the community about the disease of addiction and to eliminate the stigma surrounding it.
One of the more recent education efforts involves a local African-American pastor who inquired about PROACT’s mission.
“There is a lack of treatment in the African-American community,” Haney said. “So even though we were here, and we’re open, not everybody avails themselves to that. And he felt that a lot of that was due to just a lack of understanding of what we do and the lack of understanding of addiction in general.”
As talks continue, Haney hopes they can include that congregation in PROACT’s efforts.
Stigma can also keep those who struggle with addiction from seeking out help. They may not want to associate themselves with the negative connotations surrounding the disease.
But Haney said breaking down the barrier of stigma through education equips patients with the knowledge they need to start their journey to recovery.
“Healthcare should always be about informed consent. And so if they’re informed they can then decide what they want to do,” he said.
Haney said the Addiction Policy Forum’s recognition of PROACT as an innovative program is “gratifying.”
He thinks their model could help people in other communities struggling with the addiction crisis.
“We want to be the best,” he said. “And we hope that through the example of collaboration, that others become even better than us.”
PROACT was one of five programs selected by the Forum that have a presence in Huntington, a city that had become notorious for high rates of addiction and overdose.
Haney credits the community with coming together with an open mind toward solutions after the city experienced 26 overdose calls in just four hours back in 2016.
“I think that was the moment when [Huntington] became sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said. “Because of that, then everybody wants to do something, because it takes a community to come together to create something large enough to tackle a problem this big.”
Kimberly Clapp of the Forum said PROACT is a great example of the sort of innovation the region needs.
Other programs highlighted by the Addiction Policy Forum go far beyond treatment to address other aspects of the addiction crisis.
Young People in Recovery, formed in Louisville in 2012, now has 100 members and provides a wide variety of support services. Unlike traditional “anonymous” recovery programs, the group regularly hosts community events celebrating recovery. Participants often wear T-shirts with the slogan “This Is What Recovery Looks Like,” in an effort to break down the stigma barrier.
During the summer the group hosts ultimate Frisbee tournaments and in the winter, dodgeball. It also provides critical links to recovery resources and has successfully advocated for increased access to the overdose drug naloxone.
According to the Forum, the Louisville group is expanding its services to seven other Kentucky counties.
The Hocking County Vivitrol Drug Court in Logan, Ohio, partnered with a regional behavioral health provider to incorporate judicial reform into addiction recovery.
It was one of the first drug courts in the country certified to administer Vivitrol as part of its program. The drug nullifies the effects of opioids and helps those with substance use disorders manage their cravings. Hopewell Health Centers works with the court to provide the medication-assisted treatment.
The voluntary program allows participants to deal with their disease, and provides the tools to do so, rather than putting them in jail and delaying treatment.
Clapp says the Ohio Valley’s addiction crisis is complex and requires communities working together for more than one solution.
“We feel like it takes everybody to come together to solve the opioid and addiction crisis,” she said. “No crisis has ever been solved by just one sector.”
ReSource reporter Mary Meehan contributed to this report.