Examining the ecosystem of an epidemic

Opioid fight is also about the economy, families, jobs

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

Heroin is kicking Lorain County’s economy in the ribs, and John Mullaney believes investing in an addiction treatment center will be good for everyone’s wallet.

The awful human cost of the opioid epidemic is clear. But in 2017, a large-scale study found the drug problem takes an annual $200 million toll on our county — the burden it places on the judicial system alone is around $7 million.

While doctors and treatment specialists are attacking the epidemic from the medical side, the Amherst-based Nord Family Foundation, where Mullaney serves as executive director, is among the groups trying to address it from other angles.

“What we want to be doing is looking at the whole ecosystem of this epidemic” and examine whether there are adequate facilities in place to address it, he said.

The charitable organization’s trustees set aside $300,000 last year to study a coordinated response to opioid addiction in local communities.

In February, they approved nearly $2.8 million in grants for health, the arts, and education. That money included $30,000 for the Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition in Cleveland to increase its presence in Lorain County, and $90,000 for Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services to help people addicted to opiates.

Now the Nord Family Foundation is weighing how much money to contribute toward the creation of the Recovery One addiction treatment center at the former Golden Acres Nursing Home site in Amherst Township.

The Ohio capital budget recently signed by Gov. John Kasich included $500,000 for the project, county commissioners have talked about dedicating around $200,000 from their coffers, and other local organizations plan to chip in as well. But Mullaney believes published reports of an $850,000 price tag for Golden Acres renovations are far too low.

“What we know is that $500,000 — that’s going to fix maybe the leaks in the roof but it’s not going to be what we really envision,” he said.

“To outfit this thing, to really have it be something that addresses the need but also the dignity of the people who are being served, you’re probably talking closer to $2 million or $3 million at least.”

The answer may be a local capital campaign asking for donations from the community, he said.

After all, it’s a community health emergency, Mullaney said. Addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as such, and a responsible and caring community rallies to help residents with life-threatening diseases.

“That’s why we’re in this,” he said.

Mullaney does not view Recovery One as merely a chance to treat addicts and send them packing. He sees a need for it to include wraparound services.

The Nord Family Foundation is asking questions such as: What happens when people do recover from addiction? Are they going back into the job market? Are they keeping jobs? Is there a way to integrate treatment services with Lorain County Jobs and Family Services?

The nonprofit recently paid for an expedition to Arizona where a group studied what that state is doing in the field of behavioral health — not only for addicts, but also for the families affected by their loved ones’ struggles.

“This is larger than just treating the disease. This is about the ecosystem… Are these services exquisitely syncopated to the needs of our community? And if they’re not, what do we need to do to make sure they are?” Mullaney said.

Another possibility is the creation of a 211 program at Recovery One. Such phone hotlines already exist in other communities, helping people who need food, need help recovering from a disaster, need help with health problems, need housing, people who are caught up in human trafficking, who are desperate for work, who need veterans services, who are trying to reenter society after a prison term.

“A lot of people have said they don’t know where to go for help. There’s not an easy one-step place,” Mullaney said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Opioid fight is also about the economy, families, jobs

By Jason Hawk