Just after 11 a.m. March 5, officers were called to a report of a syringe in a Nashville alley, next door to the BETA center, a safe space for teens.
Every month, a group of key players in the opioid epidemic meet to discuss ways to help stop drug use in Brown County.
Most importantly, they talk about keeping our kids safe.
“It’s been on our minds,” Brown County Schools Superintendent Laura Hammack said about the opioid epidemic, at a meeting of the Brown County Drug Free Coalition on Jan. 22.
“Pretty much every time we have an administrative team meeting together, this is a topic somehow, because it presents in behavior, academic achievement; it presents in family issues.”
Gathered around the table were representatives of law enforcement, the school district, probation, the local health department, the Department of Child Services, Silver Linings women’s shelter and Centerstone.
Two questions were posed to the group: How bad is the opioid epidemic here, and what can your organization do to help?
The short answer from around the table: It’s bad. But prevention and education can help, along with changing the stigma associated with drug use.
The school corporation is affected by the epidemic in many ways, including children who start school not prepared because they have been exposed to drugs in the womb or at home during their formative years, up to age 5.
“That is absolutely seen in the classroom, as students are not prepared and generally not physiologically able to engage as their peers who have not been exposed,” Hammack said.
“We see boys and girls with behavioral health issues from pre-K and kindergarten. These are more and more prevalent. We are finding boys and girls present with mental health issues at an increased frequencies as compared with before the epidemic. Clearly, these are all factors that present in the classroom as teachers are trying to educate.”
As children grow, they start using drugs themselves, or have to grow up quickly because their parents are using drugs. “They are parenting other siblings who are not able to be cared for by a parent who may be using,” Hammack said.
People may steal or engage in other crimes related to drug abuse, which results in law enforcement getting involved.
Brown County Chief Deputy Brad Stogsdill said preventing people from using drugs is key when it comes to saving lives. “If we can get our kids or adults, everybody, to just realize the potential danger of it, and that it is going to ruin your life in a sense,” he said.
The school district is working to do just that, with a new curriculum at each grade level.
“That is huge for us, so next school year, our boys and girls will have access to this curricula beginning in kindergarten,” Hammack said. “It’s not, ‘Just say no to drugs’; it’s drug education.”
The curriculum includes assertiveness training and lessons on how to navigate situations if kids find themselves in a place where drugs are present.
“How do you get out of those sorts of situations? How do you advocate for yourself? (It’s) doing a better job of educating the students on the wellness, the physicality of their bodies and what drugs do to that,” Hammack said.
“That’s been a real win.”
The school district will work with the sheriff’s department to present another convocation like the one offered last semester. People who were formerly addicted to drugs and a parent of a local man who died of an overdose spoke to freshmen and sophomores.
Chief probation officer Jennifer Acton said her department deals with many heroin cases, and that the epidemic here is “very bad.”
“Five years ago, we had zero (heroin cases). Now you’re spending all of your resources. Now you might spend one whole day trying to find treatment for somebody and not even find it,” she said.
“You’re not going to get anywhere if you just work with that person. You have to work with their entire family, whoever they are connected to, to try and get them that help.”
If someone is arrested, Stogsdill said jail is sometimes the best place for them because it allows them to “dry out” and sober up.
Inmates have access to a therapy program that’s designed to decrease recidivism — the tendency to return to jail — and the START program, which is run by substance abuse counselor Carrie Foley. They also are able to attend weekly Narcotics Anonymous/Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
But Stogsdill said it’s also important for these inmates to have a support group after they leave the walls of the jail, especially if they were not in there long.
“It is getting a support group outside of that, because you do see them change completely if they aren’t in there long enough. If they are not in there long enough, we’re not doing any good, because they’re just going to get right back out and immediately start using,” he said.
The Brown County Career Resource Center offers an adult education program in the jail. CRC Director Dave Bartlett said he estimates 75 to 80 percent of the clients are in jail because of a crime related to drug use.
He said the instructor works with inmates to establish an exit plan for when they leave the jail. “To change that default setting for them is a challenge,” he said.
Foley is the director of the Silver Linings women’s shelter, a place where some women land after leaving jail.
Silver Linings and local mental healthcare provider Centerstone often work together to get treatment for women who reach out to the shelter, but aren’t able to stay due to lack of beds.
Foley said there is only one person in the shelter who is not receiving treatment from Centerstone for either mental health issues or substance abuse.
Foley said some of the women in the shelter lack basic skills because they started using drugs at a young age.
“But, nevertheless, we have some real successes in this community. I see recovering addicts who are now beginning to focus on helping others. If we did not have that, I think we would be worse off. The opiate crisis is bringing that up,” she said.
“The recovery community is working hard right now. We need a men’s shelter. Some day, we will have it. But we don’t have it.”
Here to help
Carol Korb is a therapist at Centerstone and runs the intensive outpatient therapy group for adolescents.
“I too am in recovery,” she said at the Jan. 22 meeting.
“I was part of the opioid epidemic, but understanding it and keeping these kids in the loop and just not writing them off (is important). That goes for the parents, too.”
Korb said there is just as much methamphetamine in Brown County as heroin, if not more.
Amanda Kinnaird is the Child and Family Services manager with Brown County Centerstone. She said she didn’t start seeing adolescents using heroin until about four or five years ago.
“Then it was like, sporadic, and it’s just increasingly gotten more regular, and now we have a regular treatment group of youth who are addicted to meth or heroin,” she said.
The same goes for supporting families who have been directly affected by opioids or other drug addictions, Kinnaird added.
Along with Korb’s Intensive Outpatient Program group, Centerstone now has recovery coaches with specialized training for both adolescents and adults. They also have a counselor who runs an addiction education program called Prime for Life.
“I think we continue to try to expand to meet the need. It’s big, it’s there, and I think without the education, and the stigma taking a shift, I think we’re going to see this get worse or stay steady for a while,” Kinnaird said.
She said the coalition needs to focus on changing the stigma of addiction, along with educating the community about the dangers of drug use.
“I am worried about where we’re going to go as a community and as a country,” she said.
“Stigma is still a huge issue. People are scared to get treatment. They feel ashamed. And I think that’s going to take a whole community of people to change and a lot of initiatives, grassroots and from these kinds of coalitions.”
Foley said another hurdle is hopelessness, and Centerstone can help there, too. “It’s a suicidal kind of thinking that accompanies it sometimes,” she said.
“That’s where Centerstone really is able to reach out and offer that hand that says, ‘There’s somebody here to help.’”
Doug Payne is a member of the recovery community and has been speaking recently about his own battles with addiction during seminars throughout the state. Payne said overdosing is sometimes seen as a way out, “because they don’t know what to do. OD is a suicide.”
Fighting it together
Kinnaird said she was impressed by how the community has come together to fight the drug epidemic here, including people who are in recovery.
“It’s just been so neat to see all of these people coming together and trying to go out there and help each other, and trying to do something good with their experience. I think that’s what’s going well,” she said.
Payne asked if it would be possible to start a Narcotics Anonymous youth group for local teens. Acton said she had already spoken with Brown County YMCA Executive Director Kim Robinson about having a meeting there.
“It would be right after school, so kids could actually go from school to over there. Parents don’t have to know what they’re doing at the Y; they are just at the Y,” Acton said.
Korb said she should have a full intensive outpatient class based on reports of the number of youth using, but she does not. “I have these kids who are like, ‘Oh, she would come in, but her mom would be so mad.’ If that was your kid, what would you tell me to do?” she said.
Starting an NA youth group would be a possible way to reach those kids, she said.
“Our point is to help these kids stay sober and stay alive,” Kinnaird said.
A subcommittee was created to develop a plan for a youth recovery group. High school Principal Shane Killinger suggested that the meetings not be housed at school because kids might not attend out of fear of getting into trouble, since drug use is illegal.
Payne said that in his experience, kids won’t admit to drug use anyway.
“For kids, most of them start out on pills, I would say probably 90 percent of them. Even when I was growing up and you mentioned the word ‘heroin,’ it was like ‘Ew, you’re doing heroin?’
“It’s not that anymore,” he said.
The Brown County Drug Free Coalition will meet on March 19 at 1 p.m. in the Goldberg Room at Brown County High School.
The coalition meets on third Mondays and the meeting location is usually Brown County High School unless a schedule conflict happens.