The Journal Gazette
Thursday, July 18, 2019 1:00 am


Crisis intervention

Legal system opens more options for addicts

In tears, a mother in Judge Wendy Davis' Allen Superior courtroom once told her if a needle were in the middle of the road and her 2-year-old was there, too, she would go for the needle. Homeless defendants who come before Davis say they will take heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl and any other drug they can find on a daily basis.

Drugs still have a hold on far too many people in this community. But the news isn't all bad.

More treatment beds are opening at three sites that will offer alternatives to incarceration for those struggling to recover from addiction. A 2017 bill authored by Sen. Jim Merritt, an Indianapolis Republican, provided $1.5 million for the Fort Wayne facilities. Marcia Haaff, CEO of the Lutheran Foundation, led the effort that raised a match through local contributions.

Davis spoke Friday at the dedication of a new facility. Choices Treatment Centre on Spy Run has two wings of 20 beds each for men who need one of two levels of treatment.

That afternoon, Redemption House, which offers treatment to women with substance-abuse problems at a residential center on Fairfield Avenue, opened a second treatment home with beds for 16 women on East Wayne Street. And Park Center on Carew Street added 15 beds to its site, which treats both men and women.

The addition of 71 beds does not mean alternative treatment will be available to everyone who enters the justice system in Allen County with a drug-related problem. Some must still be incarcerated, and even the expanded treatment facilities will be much in demand. “There is already a waiting list,” said Tomi Cardin, executive director of Redemption House.

Those sent to Redemption House by the courts receive help with life skills as well as addiction treatment, Cardin said. They are offered support and resources as they seek and begin jobs, learn new skills and rebuild family relationships.

The new facilities represent a major victory for a coalition of local officials and leaders from law enforcement, health care and private foundations who have been trying to address a crisis that for several years has always seemed to be a step ahead of them.

When the bill that would help create a pilot program for addiction recovery in Allen County began to move through the Indiana legislature three years ago, efforts were already under way that would curb the dangerous proliferation of homemade meth labs. The focus, here and statewide, was on opioid addiction, fueled in many cases by the easy availability of prescription painkillers. As that access was reduced, users switched to heroin, sometimes fortified by fentanyl, an even-more-dangerous synthetic opioid. Now, with signs that the opioid crisis may have peaked, law enforcement officials say, use of crystal meth is increasing.

Merritt has often characterized the need to put more state resources into the struggle as an effort to “Kill Heroin in Five” – within five years. But at the Choices Treatment Centre dedication, he noted, “I'm trying to change the conversation to addiction. ... We're still entrenched with opioids, but meth is knocking at the door.”

To Merritt and those who worked with him to create the new facilities, that doesn't change the need to deal with drug users as victims. “Addiction is an illness,” he said. “It's not a character flaw.”

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