Adrian Daily Telegram: Walberg meets with officials on opioid epidemic
ADRIAN — For a better understanding of the opioid epidemic in Lenawee County, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, Thursday, embarked on a low-key tour to meet with various agencies within the county that are battling on the front lines of the epidemic.
The tour was arranged through Lenawee County Sheriff Jack Welsh. Walberg began the morning by taking a trip with deputies to known illegal narcotics hot spots. Walberg then met and listened to officers of the Region of Irish Hills Narcotics Office (RIHNO).
Upon returning to the sheriff’s office, he met with Janeé and Marv Cox, founders of the group Helping Addicted Loved Ones (HALO) Lenawee, and visited the nearly completed Engagement Center project being established by the Lenawee Community Mental Health Authority.
What’s needed to help agencies in the county do a better job battling the opioid epidemic?
“Same thing that everybody needs ... funding,” Lenawee County Undersheriff Troy Bevier said. “We had the opportunity to speak about staffing and if we’re going to make an impact against the problems in the community as a whole, (RIHNO) could always use more staffing.”
Bevier said currently RIHNO is heavily dependent on funding from forfeitures, which he said is not reliable.
“If you’re relying on something that’s not a dedicated funding source, then that’s not a good business model,” Bevier said.
To Bevier, it didn’t matter if the solution came from a revenue stream or in other forms.
Walberg’s meeting with the Coxes identified another problem: the lack of in-patient facilities or detox centers in Lenawee County. Currently, those who seek help, whether through an organization such as HALO or LCMHA, are sent to contracted clinics in Monroe, Jackson and Ann Arbor. This usually incurs a significant cost and inconvenience.
Asked by Walberg if there’s any silver lining they have seen in the fight against opioid abuse, Janeé Cox could not think of one.
“I don’t see much in our favor right now,” she said.
Marv Cox said that one bright spot may be that the increased awareness means more people are willing to be educated on the problem.
“You know, five years ago, when we started this, we knew it was going to be bad,” he said. “We couldn’t get anybody to listen right from the start. Now, at least, we’re getting people to listen. I guess that’s a positive.
At the Engagement Center, Walberg with Kathryn Szewczuk, LCMHA executive director; April Demers, a consultant with CMH on the center; and other staff of the new facility, which expects to have a grand opening Oct. 6.
Meeting in what at the moment is a living room-sized space under construction, the group told Walberg that the space will serve as a place where those who are on drugs or coming off drugs can go to after hours and hopefully be directed toward recovery by trained recovery coaches who have themselves battled with drug abuse.
“The Engagement Center is a service that we learned in meeting with our community that we needed available to the community,” Szewczuk said. “And we’ll staff it with people in recovery in hopes that we can connect with some people who haven’t gotten into treatment yet and who are actively using. And usually we found the people who connect most readily to the people that we serve are those who have the same lived experience.”
Walberg encouraged the work of the new facility, saying that he was glad to see that the community is becoming involved and working together.
“Now, all of a sudden, it began to open up and now we’re acting on it,” Walberg said. “And I think over time, we’ll see communities get together, we’ll see agencies come together, and we’ll see private sector involvement in saying we want to help out on this.
“But as we went through with the team this morning, looking at what’s happening here in the law enforcement aspect, we don’t have the resources to do that well enough yet.”
This article originally appeared in the September 3 edition of the Adrian Daily Telegram.