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The Journal Gazette

Friday, November 10, 2017 1:00 am


A step forward

Encouraging response to opioid rehab center

Still on the rise

Allen County drug poisonings and deaths

January through October 2016:

612 poisonings

January through October 2017:

1,032 poisonings

2016 drug poisoning deaths: 68

2017 drug poisoning deaths: 90 (with 50 other deaths pending toxicology tests)

As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen, a calm public session Tuesday on a proposed drug-treatment facility in New Haven offered some hope. After a setback, the coalition of organizations working to provide new space to help users conquer addiction has advanced new and promising plans.

In August, Park Center decided to abandon an earlier plan for a 100-bed center on Fort Wayne's northeast side after nearby residents expressed concern about safety. The proposed new site is much farther from residential neighborhoods. The informal meeting with those who live nearest the site at New Haven Avenue and Meyer Road was organized by Park Center, part of a coalition of agencies working on a pilot program to give the courts new ways to help addicts recover.

A community without adequate drug-treatment facilities is a more dangerous place than one with them. But questions are natural when such a facility is proposed. Paul Wilson, the center's president and CEO, emphasized patients at the proposed facility would be pre-detoxed and carefully screened. The proposed center would be a secure facility, he said, with guards on duty 24 hours a day. Wilson presented research by Hendrickson Development, a New Orleans-based health care consultant, that showed treatment centers don't increase neighborhood crime. The Journal Gazette's Rosa Salter Rodriguez reported that though nearby residents had questions, no one expressed outright opposition.

“I think the people listened and had, overall, a rather positive response,” Wilson said in an interview Thursday. He said he was “cautiously optimistic” the new proposal will be given the special-use permit it will seek from the New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals.

“We want to do this as quickly as we can,” he said. “Each month, people are dying.”

There's no question judges need more options to deal with the crisis. People convicted of low-level drug-possession felonies can't be sent to state prison anymore and probably shouldn't have been in the past. But leaving nonviolent addicts to try to overcome their problems in county jails is costly and counter-productive. And simply releasing them back into their old neighborhoods without treatment or supervision invites failure.

The drug coalition's new approach will offer different levels of care at two facilities. The 56-bed New Haven facility would offer acute residential 30-day programs, where convicted drug users just coming off addiction would receive in-facility treatment and be taught long-term strategies for sober living. Those stepping down from that treatment might then be transferred by the courts to the Hobson House, a halfway house that last month agreed to accept court-directed drug offenders.  

There are several other halfway houses in the county, but there is an acute shortage of beds. Hobson House last month agreed to convert a building at 2720 Culbertson St. in Fort Wayne into a treatment residence that could accommodate as many as 56 men. Residents sent there by a court would go off site for treatment. As their recovery progressed, they could leave the site to work, Wilson explained.

Both the Hobson House and Park Center operations are part of a state pilot program for court-ordered drug treatment created in last year's legislature by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, and the state's commitment to the battle is continuing to grow. Gov. Eric Holcomb Wednesday announced that his 2018 agenda includes expanded emphasis on the fight against addiction.

Indiana plans to use the Fort Wayne program to help determine the best recovery strategies to pursue statewide, Wilson said. 

“I think it's going to make a significant impact,” he said. “I don't hold any fantasy that this will totally take care of the problem.”