AG’s Office holds addiction fighting round table discussion

By Dean Wright -

GALLIPOLIS — Representatives from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office stopped to speak with leaders in the law enforcement, social work, health care and behavioral health care fields at Holzer Medical Center recently to discuss the needs and trends of ongoing efforts to combat the opioid addiction epidemic in southeast Ohio.

Representatives were present from Lawrence, Jackson, Meigs and Gallia Counties.

Attorney General’s Office Community Outreach Specialist Carol Baden led the discussion as conversation flowed between the various members of the room.

“I used to be a nurse and that’s how I kind of came into this space,” said Baden. “So I see a lot of the medical side of addiction. With traveling through my counties, I see how this has just impacted everyone on every level. We’ve conferences with faith leaders and the medical community.”

Baden said one of her chief concerns with the opioid epidemic was to drop the backsliding of addicts once taken off a drug in both the medical and judicial systems. She encouraged programs and work with probation departments to aid with area businesses in attempting to find reformed addicts and convicts jobs in the hopes it would prevent them from lapsing again. She said she realized the hesitation shown by business owners, however, getting an addict a job and occupied was part of breaking the addiction cycle.

Among topics of conversation, Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Executive Director Robin Harris said one of her concerns with the board is that it does not have local levy dollars to assist in fighting the drug epidemic so it has to be careful with how to spends its financial resources.

“We desperately need a rural change in Medicaid,” said Harris. “We need people to be able to hold their Medicaid card when they enter a county jail. I talked with (representatives) to speak with Senator Rob Portman. It’s definitely a federal rule but also we’re wondering about whether the state would be receptive to that. The services that we’re offering in the jails, we’re only able to offer through a grant. It just seems to me like changing that Medicaid rule would help to keep from having to piece together grants.”

Gallia Sheriff’s Office in past years has partnered with the GJM ADAMHS Board to offer counseling services to individuals within the jail as part of a grant initiative. According to both Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin and Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren, the pair of them have been attempting to test any drug instrumentation found at the scene of an overdose or crime in an attempt to hold individuals accountable and force them into some kind of treatment through programs overseen by Gallipolis Municipal Judge Eric Mulford or Gallia Common Pleas Judge Margaret Evans. The Gallia law enforcement system has been speaking with STAR Justice Centers in an attempt to rectify crowding jail concerns. Reportedly, the centers serve as both a correctional and rehabilitation facility.

Mulford in the past has said both he and Evans, through area drug courts and the administration of Vivitrol, work together to prevent the relapse of offenders through weekly meetings with addicts in drug court. He felt the program has been successful but is not suited for everyone.

Holdren expressed concern that he felt the state oftentimes may overlook the problems faced in southeast Ohio and that he hoped stronger methods of communication could be created.

Baden assured those present she would take her concerns onto her superiors with the office and agreed the difficulties presented needed to be addressed.

Dean Wright can be reached 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.

By Dean Wright