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Recovery: Local addiction experts speak out

“Life always offers you a second chance. It is called tomorrow,” read a placard sitting on the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Board’s table at a Wednesday substance abuse prevention event hosted by the Community Action Agency in East Liverpool.

Dr. Joseph Sitarik, an addiction medicine specialist who closed out the discussion, provided a unique insight into the addict’s brain and body chemistry during the two-hour event held at the First Church of the Nazarene in East Liverpool. He urged those present, many of them in the addiction field in various capacities, the importance of surrounding addicts with advocates for treatment. “Until they are willing to change, nothing will change,” Dr. Sitarik reminded.

A large amount of his comments geared around marijuana, which has moved to the forefront here as states implement medical marijuana programs and other urge its use to replace those currently utilizing opiates and pain pills.

Out of the 33 states that legalize medical marijuana, Sitarik said that the population – especially the addict – wants to get high, and the legislature wants the money generated by that high. However, he admits that the problem isn’t necessarily the drug but the disease that fuels the need for that high.

Briefly, he explained how there are three basic species of cannabis with satina and indica being the two most popular. One has a higher level of THC content, which produces the high encountered with marijuana, while the other has a higher level of CBD and is surging in population for its alleged health benefits without the high.

There are a lot of CBD oils that exude that aura of benefits; however, in order to be legal, the extract (which mostly comes from hemp), cannot exceed .3 percent, explained Dr. Sitarik. However, the majority of those offered oils don’t meet the criteria legally.

“This is not your mama’s marijuana,” he said, adding that studies have shown how individuals using marijuana have lost eight IQ points especially in their teens and 20s and suffered significant memory, attention and mental health problems, like schizophrenia if predisposed.

Substances, like Marinol (an appetite stimulant in cancer patients) and Salivez (used outside the United States for multiple sclerosis), have been used for medical treatment, he explained. However, there currently is “no control or oversight over CBD oils.”

“That dopamine reward is what (many addicts want). It doesn’t matter if it is ice cream or methamphetamine. An addict is after the buzz.”

According to Jody Wisbith, marketing specialist for the CAA’s Health, Behavioral Health and Dental Centers, the seminar included presentations by East Liverpool Municipal Court Judge Melissa Byers-Emmerling and members of the addiction recovery court staff, the head of the Columbiana County Drug Task Force and two medical doctors with extensive experience in the addiction field.

The event was emceed by Dr. Jill Hendrickson, CAA psychologist and director of behavioral health. “We feel part of our mission is community outreach and engagement. We strive to part of the community and be responsive to community needs whatever they may be,” she explained. “Based on feedback we have received from community members and the well publicized drug problems in the county, we want to ensure everyone knows how and where to get treatment. That is why we felt compelled to bring local agencies together to provide information about addiction and how and where to get treatment.”

Agencies represented included the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Board, which brought along Deterra drug deactivation system bags containing activated carbon which can be used to neutralize pills, liquids and patches that might otherwise find its way into the system for inappropriate use by non-prescribed patients; the Family Recovery Center, which were on hand to provide information about substance abuse education and narcan training; the Family Care Ministries; New Vision, a medical detox facility located within East Liverpool City Hospital; Ozer Ministries, which focuses on dealing with domestic violence and childhood trauma; and Holly’s Song of Hope, which offers Vivitrol intervention for opiate and alcohol addiction.

Byers-Emmerling opened up the event with her staff, stating that the court’s addiction recovery program is very hands-on. “In 2017, when heroin struck, we weren’t prepared for that,” she explained, adding the realization that many of the defendants traversing through their court system were turning up dead. Vivitrol was the first step for many people, blocking the recipient’s ability to get high.

Then the program advanced to the S.O.S. program, thanks to a grant from the county’s mental health agency.

The judge reminded this program is designed for drug addicts not the actual pusher≥ “It is a holistic approach to break the tendency to relapse,” Byers-Emmerling said.

Lt. Brian McLaughlin spoke about the drug task force’s mission. A 14-year veteran of the county drug force, McLaughlin explained that enforcement without treatment isn’t the answer and spoke of how his agency has to work with the agencies present to make a difference.

“We can go out there and smack (down drugs) all days, but it won’t make a difference, because there is money to be made (by dealers, many of them out of Columbiana County),” the director explained, adding that of the 10 percent of people who might be arrested, there are another 90 percent who still need help with their addiction.

Speaking of the transition from opiate painkillers to heroin, which provides a much cheaper and accessible high when a doctor cut off a patient’s supply, to fentanyl and carfentanyl, McLaughlin said that the area’s drug supply has become even more unpredictable. While explaining that while one kilo of heroin tends to go for $73,000 on the street compared to one kilo of fentanyl, which is $20,000, it takes a community to stop it from spreading.

“Ninety percent of cases start out in the community with a neighbor perhaps noticing a lot of five-minute friends at a particular house,” he said, adding that now one sees drugs that look like marijuana but are fentanyl, which is much stronger than heroin or morphine.

Dr. Alex Payne talked a bit of what they encounter at East Liverpool City Hospital’s New Vision program, which started in 2014 and provides drug and alcohol medical stablization through an in-patient program for individuals addicted to everything from benzodiazepines and cocaines to opioids and other prescription drugs. He did explain that the withdrawal from opiates seems to be the most severe.

“You really need to baby (the addict) to get them through it,” Dr. Payne concluded.

A question and answer session followed the discussion, and refreshments were provided.

CAA Health, Behavioral Health and Dental Centers are located in locations in East Liverpool, Lisbon and Salineville. For more information, call 330-424-5686.

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