Fairbanks hosts meeting of governor’s drug task force

Fairbanks and Hope Academy hosted the final meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment, and Prevention on Dec. 5 before it transitions into the Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse.

The meeting featured testimonials from Fairbanks Medical Director Darrin Mangiacarne, DO, MPH, CPE, and Josy, a recent Hope Academy graduate.

Barbara Elliott, president and CEO of Fairbanks and Hope Academy, told the assembly the organizations were honored to host the task force’s last meeting and looked forward to supporting the new commission.

“Thank you for bringing awareness to such an important topic,” Elliott said.

Just how important is the topic of addiction? Mangiacarne noted that of the 47,000 annual drug overdoses nationally, 1,200 happen in Indiana – more than the state’s proportional share.

“The average person is more likely to die from a drug overdose than a motor vehicle accident. We want to do more to prevent this from happening,” said Mangiacarne, adding there’s no single solution to the problem.

“We’re talking comprehensive changes that need to be made.”

Since starting at Fairbanks 18 months ago, Mangiacarne has noticed patients struggling with addiction are sicker and have more psychiatric issues. Many struggle to find housing and jobs. They often need more than treatment. They need life skills training and often suffer from co-morbid conditions.

There has been progress in the fight against addiction. Mangiacarne highlighted the distribution of Narcan, which reverses the effects of an overdose. But that’s just a start.

“We need to treat patients who overdose with Narcan, then link them to recovery support,” Mangiacarne said. “Having an overdose isn’t enough to deter people from using drugs again.”

Fairbanks opened its Addiction Medicine Outpatient Services Office in September for clients who require medication in addition to counseling for their recovery. The organization is also emphasizing one-on-one time between patients and physicians.

“We’re trying to improve the quality of our treatment versus just seeing as many patients as we can,” Mangiacarne said.

He would like to see the caps on medication-assisted treatment removed and the number of days in residential treatment covered by insurance expanded.

“I’ve seen it make a difference in a lot of lives,” Mangiacarne said.

He also advocated for more addiction education for medical professionals and transitional housing for those in recovery, especially women. Some of these ideas were embraced by the governor’s drug task force. Included in their final recommendations is improving the study of addiction in our state medical schools. One proposal related to that is a one-year post-residency training, such as community family medicine, in association with Fairbanks.

Another goal is to incentivize health-care providers to offer more medically-assisted addiction treatment like Fairbanks’ new program. John Hill, Gov. Mike Pence’s deputy chief of staff for public safety and a co-chair of the drug task force, said addiction treatment is effective 40-50 percent of the time when paired with medication, versus about 10 percent with counseling only.

“I know this is still a controversial issue in some parts of our state. But we’ve got to start looking at it if we’re going to be effective at treating substance abuse,” Hill said.

Also a focal point is providing those in recovery with a more complete continuum of care, including more housing and life-skills training.

“We can’t just get people into an outpatient program, then say, ‘Go get a job’ and everything’s hunky dory,” Hill said. “We’ve got to make sure there’s a process.”

Pence has already asked state agencies with jurisdiction over various aspects of the task force’s recommendations to begin taking action. Additionally, state representatives serving on the task force have started introducing legislation that addresses some of these needs.

“I’m excited this work is being taken on by others and will be expanded,” Hill said.

Allen County Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis, a task force member, noted her wish of cloning Hope Academy in other parts of the state. Josy, a recent graduate of the recovery high school, shared her success story during the meeting.

Always a good student, Josy became depressed during her junior year when her brother got sick. She started using drugs to cope. Her downward spiral culminated in her expulsion last March for possession on school property.

“I felt my future crashing down around me,” Josy said. “I can’t express the feeling of hopelessness that I had. I thought there was no possible way I could go to college, or even get my life back.”

At best she figured her only option was to earn her GED, then enroll at a community college. Instead her mother scheduled a visit at Hope Academy. Josy admits she only went to appease her.

“But once I arrived I immediately felt safe. I felt a little hope again,” she said. “The community there is so amazing and tightknit. It’s an amazing environment to balance academics with recovery support.”

Josy was able to graduate a semester early. She’s starting at Indiana University-Bloomington in January, majoring in nursing. She hopes later to pursue a master’s in social work.

“I want to help kids like me,” said Josy, who’s also a finalist for the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship Program.

“For the first time in a long time, I’m happy and in control again – and excited for the future. I’m so grateful I was able to come to Hope Academy and learn and grow.”