The Transylvania Times -

Experts Call For Different Approach To Drugs - Brevard, NC

 

November 2, 2017



Editor’s Note: During the past month, four presentations on drugs, addiction and drug policy were held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brevard.

The following is the second part of coverage of the second meeting, which focused on the War on Drugs and its impact, and the history of drug use and society’s reaction to it. Four panelists — Dan Carter, Larry Goodwin, Stephanie Prejean and Christiana Glenn Tugman — spoke during the presentation. Carter’s comments were published in the first part. Stories about the third and fourth meetings will appear in upcoming editions.

Larry Goodwin, a psychologist, set up his first outpatient addiction group in the early 1970s.

Goodwin spent the first half of his career setting up addiction-related programs.

The second half of his career, he said, was about tearing the programs down, thanks to public money being diverted into incarceration.

In the early 1970s, the anticipation was that many Vietnam veterans would be returning as heroin addicts. Instead, many stopped the behavior after returning, Goodwin said.

“We know people who are truly chemically dependent can’t do that,” he said. “So, what we had was a situation where people were using drugs because they were afraid. They were angry. They felt helpless and hopeless. They had no confidence in the authority figures around them to protect them, and there was a lot of peer pressure to say, ‘Screw it and stick it to the man. What are they going do to me? Send me to Vietnam?’ So, they used drugs, and if you stop and think about it, there’s a large population of our brothers and sisters of color that live in situation not too unlike that today.”

Goodwin said drug use led to some overdoses and there was some physiological dependence, but a true chemical dependency did not take place. He said that if society could do something to reduce the hopelessness and helplessness, the feeling of not being protected, drug use could probably be reduced.

In 1978, Goodwin said he helped set up an alcoholism treatment facility at the now-called Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“By definition, the military did not have addicts,” Goodwin said. “We didn’t use other drugs. If you were caught using drugs other than alcohol and nicotine, you were discharged with a less than honorable discharge.”

Those people found it difficult to find employment, Goodwin said.

Goodwin said he had two different tours at the facility over eight years and he knew he had dozens of people “trump up” an alcohol history, so they could be treated for using drugs.

“Technically, we were supposed to kick them out of the service, but — myself and other clinicians — we developed our own ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ unofficial policy and treated them because we knew something that others didn’t, and that is, a drug is a drug is a drug,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the chemical or the behavior is. If an addiction is in place, it’s the same thing, and it’s treatable.”

The programs provided six weeks of intensive inpatient treatment followed by a mandatory outpatient program.

The patients were then discharged and could go back to their military job and a drug-free environment.

“You need those things to have success in treating addictions,” he said. “In our civilian world we don’t have most of those things in place at all. Treatment works. Incarceration does not. Sending an addict to prison should be a criminal act, not the behavior that got them the diagnosis in the first place. They will learn how to be a better criminal without providing treatment.” he said.

Stephanie Prejean, who is employed by Meridian Health, is the diversion clinician at the Transylvania County Detention Center.

“We are tasked with many things,” she said. “But the big one is to work ourselves out of a job — addressing this recidivism rate that we continue to hear about that is so high.”

Prejean meets with folks with mental health or substance abuse and works on ways to keep them from returning to prison.

“I meet with folks one on one and teach them how to handle anxiety and depression and what skills they can use to manage impulse control or how to lengthen their anger fuse,” she said.

The challenges these people face include finding a job and somewhere to live.

“How are you going to find a place to rent, especially in the rent crisis that we have here as well,” Prejean said. “How do you meet new people that aren’t using? How do you get connected into your community?”

In a recent substance relapse group, Prejean said they talked about “triggers.”

“I ask, ‘Why do you use?’” she said. “But not only why do you use, but how do you not when those same triggers occur?’ A lot of what we do, metaphorically speaking, is to build a toolbox. We fill the tool box with tools, with skills, and carry around and pull them out in times of need. The goal is to have as many different coping skills in the tool box and to find another when one doesn’t work.”

At the group meeting, those attending were asked to come up with “triggers.” The most common responses included stress, loneliness, boredom and being around other people who use.

The coping skills they came up with to avoid using drugs again included getting a job, getting involved in the community, volunteering, working out and going on hikes.

To combat loneliness, they mentioned going to support groups and church.

“If we incarcerate these people over and over who struggle with addiction and send them back to the same thing with no resources, no skills and no opportunities, they can barely survive,” Prejean said.

She said after the first presentation, she received phone calls from people wanting to donate clothing and other items to people after they get out of jail, as well as others willing to conduct literacy and study groups

The last speaker in the presentation was Christiana Glenn Tugman, who works for the city of Asheville as a community development analyst and homelessness lead. She has also volunteered in men’s and women’s prisons.

“I help those persons suffering from the collateral consequences of conviction and help them understand their rights,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are literally hundreds of consequences of criminal conviction. If you’re fortunate enough to get a $64 gate check, you walk out with a tremendous amount of baggage. You can’t get a job. You can’t get housing. In North Carolina your record is public, so someone can look you and the intimate details of your past up. Whether you’re a changed person or not is irrelevant.”

Tugman said people don’t become drug addicts because they roll out of bed and say, “I think I’d like to smoke crack today.” She said she interviewed 15-20 inmates a day at the jail and eventually over time she started asking them: “Why are you in pain?”

“I didn’t care if they were an addict, I wanted to know why they became that way,” she said. “And until we address that as a society we will continue to suffer the consequences…all of us. That’s why its important that we’re talking about this issue.”

Questions/Testimonials

A woman in the audience asked the panelists how society could break through the industrial business complex that is the prison system, so that there is hope, rehabilitation and education.

“That system seems so strong, especially here in North Carolina, where they took educational opportunities away,” the woman said.

Carter remembered asking a prisoner in Denmark about what life would be like after he gets out.

“He said he had six months in a furnished apartment and he had a job because the Danish government pays employees 50 percent of his salary for the first year as an incentive for them to hire him,” said Carter. “He discussed his offense, and at the end of four years he will go before a panel, and if he hasn’t had anymore run-ins with the law, then his record will be erased. Now, not all offenses are erased but most of them are. And in his case he had stabbed someone when he was drunk.”

But Carter said to convince the American people that this is the logical, fiscally conservative and moral thing to do is really the same problem “we always have in a political movement.” He said you have to have information and enough people who are passionate about it because you don’t build a movement by “sitting back.”

“I don’t think it’s hopeless,” he said. “I remember 10 years ago trying to talk about this and no one was interested.”

Tugman said the public has been fed misinformation about addicts for generations and these misinterpretations won’t go away easily.

In the late 1980s, she said, a study showed that incarceration was 10 times more expensive than rehabilitation for addicts. She said this information was put out in California, for example, but 80 percent of the people still wanted to incarcerate.

A man in the audience wondered if taxpayers knew that it cost more than $30,000 a year to house a minimum custody inmate. For a medium security inmate it’s more than $40,000 and for maximum security it’s more than $50,000.

“It’s the state that would rather have people in prison because they’re not making any money with people out of prison,” he said. “So when people stand up to the state, that’s when the private prison industrial complex will fall. When you have prisoners in there making 28 cents a day for eight hours, the state gets the rest of the money.”

Tugman said that corrections facilities are using people as “the grist in the mill” and it’s up to citizens to take that power away and support people when they get out, so they don’t go back in.

Tugman said many former inmates are “so beaten down,” that they say to themselves, “What’s the point?”

She called on business owners to hire former inmates and for the public to help when it can and to contact state lawmakers.

A woman named Lindsey also shared her story.

She said she is a recovering drug addict and a former convict. She said she has been to prison three times. The first time she went she was 19 for driving with no license. It became a cycle, she said. She was young, a single mother and made bad mistakes.

“The prison system sucked me in, and it destroyed my life,” she said. “I felt like they did not rehabilitate me at all. I did get some education my second time in prison after begging them to transfer me, so I could get my GED. To make a long story short, I have been clean for three years. Prison is a living hell and no human should have to go through those things.”

During the meeting, Prejean was asked if the private sector worked better in regards to mental health care.

Prejean said the privatization of health care works better for the people who can afford to access privately owned mental health.

“The folks who can afford that aren’t looking at the same struggled as the folks who are becoming incarcerated over and over and over,” she said. “A big reason our jails and prisons have turned into defacto mental health, substance use rehab clinics is due to that privatization and funds no longer being funneled to community mental health centers or substance use rehabilitation clinics.”

 
 

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