Agencies struggle to help addicts

Nearly 900,000 Ohioans aren’t receiving needed help for substance abuse.



YOUNGSTOWN — Heroin use is up. Crack-cocaine use is “high but stable.”

These drugs and others were rated as “readily available” in Mahoning and Columbiana counties by participants in an Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network’s surveillance of drug abuse trends in 2006.

Factors like these keep the local agencies fighting to return addicts to functioning members of society busy. More than a half-dozen treatment agencies provided rehabilitation to more than 2,430 area residents for alcohol and drug addiction between July, 2005, and June 30, 2006.

Still, many others are doing without.

Almost 900,000 Ohioans needed but did not receive treatment for substance abuse in 2005, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Funding limitations present a continual struggle for local treatment providers, said Jerry Carter, executive director of the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic, which operates out-patient and residential treatment centers across the county.

“Tomorrow morning, if we had double the money, we could double the amount of patients we treat,” he said.

Carter’s sentiments are mirrored by Richard Billak, the Community Corrections Association chief executive officer. CCA administers correctional and treatment programs for nonviolent offenders.

“When you’re operating programs where the electricity is going up 12 percent and health care and workers’ compensation are up, and the state budget is flat, you’re obviously losing dollars in deficit spending,” said Billak.

Local treatment providers received guidance and support during a meeting Friday from the statewide director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. Recently appointed director Angela Cornelius visited the Mahoning Valley as a part of her plan to tour all of the state’s 88 counties.

“We have some hills to climb,” she told attendees. “The issues we face today look quite different than a quarter century ago.”

Cornelius stressed systematic reforms and suggested strategies for securing greater state support. She asked local agencies to track patient outcomes.

“I can’t get more dollars in the system without data,” she said. “The numbers will compel the state Legislature to do what they need to do.”

Where treatment is available, it has been shown to provide important benefits for the community. According to Join Together, a research arm of the Boston University School of Public Health, rehabilitation programs have been shown to decrease drug use by half, reduce crime by 80 percent and reduce arrests by 64 percent.

Larry Moliterno, chief executive officer of Meridian Services, has witnessed that outcome first-hand through his organization’s involvement in the county’s Drug Court program.

The program, which provides rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders who commit crimes to fuel their addictions, has been shown to reduce criminal recidivism from 90 percent to 9 percent, Moliterno said.

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