With 26 percent of the population genetically predisposed to heroin addiction after one use, Sojourner Recovery Services has launched new programs for adolescents in the hopes of saving a whole generation.
Scott Gehring, CEO and president of Sojourner Recovery Services, said last month they debuted two new programs, one an intensive in-home treatment program and another geared to helping recovering addicts keep up with their schoolwork.
Sojourner had an intensive, residential program for 15 years, until Gehring recommended they halt it about a year ago because the building on Buckeye Street wasn’t suited to handling troubled teens. They have been treating youth with intensive outpatient therapy and, in the worst cases, sending them outside the county for residential treatment.
“It just wasn’t conducive to adolescents. They were small houses, lots of rooms, hard to keep an eye on and control of the kids,” he said. “Any mom knows that problem, but when you’re dealing with a population of adolescents that are going through addiction, it’s even that much more difficult.”
With a new adolescent residential campus about a year-and-a-half out, Gehring said they needed an interim program. The $130,000 grant from the county mental health and addiction board Sojourner used to use for the residential program is funding two clinicians who will provide treatment to up to 24 kids for a year.
The program runs 16 weeks and for the first two weeks the professionals visit client homes five days a week in their home and at school. The number of meetings gradually decreases. Gehring said since youth are not always the most truthful people, it is invaluable to have the home setting, where a parent can “chime” in if their child is holding something back.
“It helps for several reasons, one you’re able to get the full story if the parents are involved; two, if the parents are not involved, it allows the clinician to see first-hand the atmosphere the child is being raised in, which really allows us to tailor the treatment to their specific needs,” Gehring said.
Likewise, if the parent is part of the problem the discreet school visits can unearth those issues.
The second program is a day-reporting program, working in conjunction with the Butler County Educational Service Center (BCESC). It provides educational support by former Talawanda Principal David Isaacs at Sojourner in the mornings for kids who have been expelled — or have treatment in lieu of expulsion — and treatment in the afternoon.
So far there are nine adolescents in each program, some of whom were referred from juvenile court. Devin Goodman, the chief probation officer for the court, said the two new programs really filled a void for their kids who are on probation and required to have treatment.
“It was really identifying those kids that are out of school or not going to school that really created more time on their hands to use,” he said. “And then those kids that were in traditional treatments that just weren’t intensive enough or there were obstacles to them getting to that treatment.”
Jon Graft, superintendent for BCESC, said the schools in the county are required to pick up the tab for educating the students in the day-reporting program, and Sojourner bills Medicaid for the treatment portion. He said it is a shame there is a need for the new programs.
“I’d like to be at a place where this program would never be necessary, but it’s sad that we have to do these things,” he said. “But we want to try to do what we can to make sure students recover.”
Gehring said nationwide in 2014 more than 2.3 million or 9.4 percent of adolescents age 12-17 were illicit drug users, and 28,000 used heroin. He said his youngest client was an 11 year-old who was shooting heroin with a needle.
Heroin has reached epidemic proportions in this country and the county, but Gehring said there are misconceptions about the drug use. He said most people graduate to heroin because they can’t obtain their prescription pain killers anymore. With kids it can also be peer pressure or even an unwitting drag on a joint that has been laced with heroin. Once they are hooked they are hooked, and not necessarily for the high.
“They’re not looking for a high, but the problem is, once you become addicted you’re not doing it because you want to get high, you’re doing it because you don’t want to be sick. People don’t realize that, that’s the hard part to try and educate people,” Gehring said.
“When I say addicted, if you don’t have it you feel awful for a prolonged period of time, it’s like seven to ten days you feel like you’ve got the flu times ten, you’re muscles hurt, you’re body hurts, you’re dizzy, you’re nauseous, you’re vomiting, you’re getting cold sweats and chills, the drug sickness is absolutely miserable.”
Gehring said a “perfect storm” created the epidemic. The cops started cracking down on meth labs, the government shut down the prescription pill mills making those medications exorbitantly expensive and hard to come by, and then there was the War on Terror.
“The Taliban and Al Qaeda, they funded themselves through poppy production, they controlled all the poppy fields, which is opium, which produces heroin. When they were wiped out, there were no drug lords managing the poppy production so everyone started growing poppies, so a lot of our heroin started coming from Afghanistan because there was no one enforcing the cartels,” he said “They weren’t there so anybody could do it. So we started to see a huge production of poppies in Afghanistan and they were shipping it over through Mexico then bringing it up through our border.”
Gehring said the Mexican drug lords then jumped on the bandwagon and now, “you can get a hit of heroin for less than a pack of cigarettes” because it is also filtering down from Canada.
A local woman named Frieda (she asked the Journal-News not to use her last name) said her grandson’s problem wasn’t heroin, it was marijuana. But she says that drug is a “gateway” to other drugs.
Her 17-year-old grandson was caught with a small amount of pot during a traffic stop and was required to get non-intensive drug treatment, which he received during two months of group and individual counseling at Sojourner. It was a Godsend, she said.
“It seemed to have helped my grandson, the people there, he was able to talk to and let some things out he needed to get off his chest,” she said. “He participated very well and I like that. He would tell me how nice they were and what they would go over, and they were always kind of uplifting to him and telling him you can do this, and it’s all about thinking before your actions. They taught him a lot of good things.”