Thursday, June 12th, 2014
By Kathy Thompson
Sheriff disappointed in drug program results
CELINA - An experimental program to fight drug addiction has been dubbed a failure by Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey.
Grey said he was very disappointed in the six former inmates he handpicked for the program, which began last October. All of the men have heroin addictions. Since the program began they have either violated their court-ordered probation conditions, are facing new charges or have dropped out of sight.
"I'm not into excuses," Grey said. "I believe people make their own decisions and I wanted to trust these men. They all looked me in the eye and said they would stay drug free. They told me they wanted to change their lives, and I believed them."
Grey introduced the program with the help of David Cahill, managing partner with Avanulo Consulting Inc. of Celina. Each participant was to set a goal that would assist him in dealing with life's issues by rethinking his approach to stressors without reverting back to illegal drugs.
Once per week Cahill spent hours with the men, determining how to use their intelligence, instincts, life motivations and desires to stay away from drugs and lead productive lives.
Cahill donated his time; no cost was incurred.
Participants after being released from jail agreed to stay clean, find employment and honestly share the issues and problems they encountered on a day-to-day basis, Grey said. The class was based on a business plan Cahill uses to help struggling companies become successful. Although Cahill is not a substance abuse counselor, he was hoping the lessons his company teaches would also help the program's participants.
Three of the men in the program have been sentenced to prison, one for committing another crime and two for violating probation terms. The remaining three were released from jail: one returned on different charges, one moved out of Mercer County and another suffered an overdose.
Four of the six men had jobs waiting for them after they were released from jail, but all of them lost the opportunity.
Jason Bollenbacher, 33, of Rockford, was in the program and was released from jail in April. In May he tested positive for drugs, a violation of his probation, and he was sentenced last week to 18 months in prison.
Bollenbacher, who is at the local jail awaiting transportation to prison, said he tried to self-medicate with Suboxone, an opioid used to treat narcotic addiction. He blames himself for failing.
"This is my fault," Bollenbacher said. "I made these decisions. I earned every day I've been sentenced to. I don't want to keep taking drugs. I want to spend time with my wife and son. This isn't a life to live."
Bollenbacher said the program helped him to structure his life and remain clean.
"Had I not been involved in the program, it probably would have only taken a day or two before I was looking for drugs after getting out of jail," he said. "But I had changed medication for my depression and just wasn't thinking straight. But the program gave me the tools to succeed. I just didn't do it."
Grey said he is evaluating whether to continue the program.
"I think there may be some adjustments and changes made," he said. "We learned a lot from the program. That's important. But we're very disappointed the men weren't able to make it. We're batting zero right now."
Grey said he had two goals when the program started: to teach his staff about heroin and addicts and to help those addicted live a clean life.
"We got what we wanted, but the guys failed," Grey said. "That's the sad part. They didn't succeed."
Bollenbacher said he would hate for Grey to stop the program because of the failure of its participants.
"That's our fault," he said. "We were given the opportunity to do the right thing and we screwed up. Sheriff Grey did more than his part. Just because I failed doesn't mean the next guy will."
Almost 80 percent of those booked into the jail are addicted to drugs, Grey said, adding it became clear to him last year that despite all the programs such as DARE, treatment centers and the court system, the local drug addiction problem is not going away.
The average cost for addiction treatment in a community is about $1,600 annually per person (without medication-assisted treatment).
The average cost of mental health treatment, including two medications, is $7,500 a year, according to the Ohio Mental Health Addiction Services.
Many of the addicts in jails and prison can't afford the treatments.
"We wanted to do something," Grey said. "This cycle can't continue. I believe the inmates want a better world for themselves and their children. "
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