For some, the fight against the opioid epidemic is a national priority. For others, it’s a personal struggle. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze takes us to a basement room in Massillon, where, for about an hour last week, the story of broad policy and personal battles intertwined.
“It can only be done at the national level because it’s not about Stark County, this is about our country," begins U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
The discussion is at Wilson House, one of two once-shuttered buildings on the grounds of the old Massillon State Hospital that have become residential treatment and detox centers. Around the table sit the heads of regional treatment agencies, a sheriff, a county commissioner, a mayor, Congressman Bob Gibbs, Portman and …
“Dustin Hoover. I’m a grateful recovering addict..."
The discussion touches on treatment paid for by Medicaid expansion, the benefits and downsides of suboxone, methadone and Vivitrol; the potent threat of synthetic heroin; the need to address underlying traumas; the promise of a continuum of care, and multi-billion dollar federal programs with names like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act.
And woven through that big-picture – almost like exclamation points – is the 33-year-story of Dustin Hoover beginning with a childhood in foster care.
"At the age of 13 is when I first started experimenting, and I got into hard core drugs around the age of 26 and eventually got introduced to heroin at the age of 28 and heroin is what brought me to my knees.”
“That was what I turned to to not feel, basically, at all, yeah. To block it out.”
Portman raises the subject of fentanyl and carfentanil. "Synthetic heroin is coming in as you know it’s like a powerful poison hitting our streets. The traffickers like it because it's inexpensive for them to get and it's a more powerful high."
“If I would have known it was carfentanil, yeah, it probably wouldn’t have stopped me from using. I maybe wouldn’t have done as much because I wasn’t using to die.”
“I didn’t want to die, that was my wake-up call when I overdosed. Like Wow. And when they told me that they were ready to call it in after the fifth time of giving me Narcan and for some reason they gave me one more dose of Narcan and that’s what brought me back. And that was kind of like my wakeup call. All right, it’s serious now.”
Keith Hochadel, CEO of CommQuest Services wants his agency to be able to treat everyone when they're ready to ask for it. “People are sick and they want help, whether it’s for their mental health stuff or for drug and alcohol stuff, we ought to be able to say, would you like to come in today…”
“This was the place when I came in … sorry if I get emotional … people that honestly cared, that want to see you do well and want to try to bring that out of you…”
John Allen of the Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery board says multi-faceted treatments are key. “You know recovery is a process, and people have to kind of change the way they’re interacting with the world to stay in recovery and often times if they just get medication, they’re not able to do that.”
"Coming here allowed me to go to meetings, build a support group, get a sponsor and just stay around the people who are doing the same thing I’m doing and want something different in their life.”
Hochadel says CommQuest is making progress. “We’re able to chip away at this a little bit at a time, but it’s still getting away from us. We’re still having too many overdose deaths. Somebody said, ‘How will yo u know when you’re successful.’ I’ll be successful when we’re doing just prevention and education, then we’ll be OK. I don’t see that coming anytime soon. But to me, our goal is not just to be good but to be great.”
“I live here at Wilson Hall in transitional living. Graduated from the program two months ago, so I’ve been in transition about two months. Typically I work Monday through Friday. It gives me an opportunity to stay here, help new guys out that are coming in. A lot of their attitudes are still not wanting to get used to the environment, the structure, the accountability. Certain responsibilities. Encouraging them and making them feel welcome and try to give back to this place that helped me. “
That’s Dustin Hoover, a recovering heroin addict. Other voices in this story are those of Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman, Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Director John Aller, and CommQuest CEO Keith Hochadel.