By JENNIFER COHRON
Daily Mountain Eagle
A community effort will be needed to address the rising number of deaths from opioid overdoses, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Mental …
By JENNIFER COHRON
Daily Mountain Eagle
A community effort will be needed to address the rising number of deaths from opioid overdoses, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) said during an addiction and recovery awareness forum held in Jasper Tuesday night.
“We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem. We are going to die out of this problem,” said Pamela Butler, administrator of recovery resources for ADMH. “If you care about this community, you’re going to have to join forces with the police, the judges, the hospital, the providers and the churches.”
More than 700 of the estimated 65,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year occurred in Alabama, according to a recent press release from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, co-chair of Alabama’s Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council.
Walker County has the highest overdose rate in the state — 52 per 10,000 people, according to numbers cited by Butler during the forum.
River of Living Water United Methodist Church hosted the discussion, which included comments by seven residents in long-term recovery, as well as local treatment providers and members of law enforcement and the judicial system.
Several of the panelists cited the need to develop a local recovering community to support individuals as they grapple with their addictions.
Deidre Wilson, who has been in recovery since April 2014, said she could have used that kind of support. Instead, she had to seek it in Florence.
“It wasn’t just one person saying, ‘Look, you can do it. I did it, too.’ It was a community. So I was willing to give it 100 percent, and it worked for me. Walker County doesn’t have a recovery community like that so we can show others ‘I did it,’” Wilson said.
District Judge Henry Allred, who presides over Walker County’s Drug Court, asked what would be needed to facilitate recovery. “I know we have Celebrate Recovery and self-help meetings like that, but when I hear that we don’t have a recovery community here, I want to know what that looks like, what we need and how to get started on that,” said Allred, who added that he knows influential community members who would likely be willing to support such an effort.
Butler encouraged those in attendance to continue such discussions in future meetings.
“You all need to be meeting as a community and saying, ‘What are some of the things that we can do to help these people?’ Because it’s a disease. Nobody on this planet is getting high because they want to get up and get high,” Butler said.
Butler also emphasized the importance of educating the community about resources that are currently available.
“Most of the time, addicts and alcoholics are penniless and broke. The problem is people don’t know where to get the help,” Butler said.
Gwen Thomas-LeBlanc, director of substance abuse services for the Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center, noted that the facility has been offering help for individuals with substance abuse problems since 1989.
NAMHC, in partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Department of Mental Health, recently received a three-year grant to help address the opioid epidemic.
“What we’re working on is having a response time of 24 hours. If you call us to get some help, I’m going to have one of my staff meet with you at Mental Health or wherever you can meet — at the jail, in the hospital. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to institute that in the next two months,” Thomas-LeBlanc said.
Additional staff will also be hired as a result of the grant.
NAMHC offers a variety of services, including outpatient treatment and the assessments that are required to enter a residential treatment program.
The facility can offer outpatient services on a monthly basis or up to eight hours a week, Thomas-LeBlanc said.
Health Connect America, which has offices in Florence, Decatur and Russellville, will soon be offering intensive outpatient services in Jasper.
“Health Connect has a 24-hour turnaround time on getting in contact with our clients. We go to the jail. We go to your home. We go wherever you are because treatment doesn’t happen in an office a lot of times. Treatment happens at the park or at your grandmother’s house where you’re staying,” Mary Stumpe, director of operations, said during the meeting.
The Jasper office should be open by Nov. 1, Stumpe added.