Pubdate: Mon, 19 Feb 2007
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2007 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch


State Will Broaden Its Approach To Treating Addiction, Gov. Strickland Says

As she stumbled to the Netcare crisis center on Central Avenue, tears 
streamed down Erica Smith's cheeks. Years of heavy partying, drinking 
and smoking crack -- along with selling blood plasma and even trying 
prostitution to get money for drugs -- had taken a cruel toll. Smith 
could go no lower -- and survive. "As I walked   it was like I could 
feel pieces of my body falling off," she said. "I was so broken up."

Yet Smith got help, rebuilt her life and survived her addiction. One 
day at a time, she is succeeding.

In a society where failure grabs headlines, where addicts rob and 
kill for cash to feed the beast raging within, people in recovery are 
succeeding by living for today.

To Erica Smith, Steve Covington, Sarah and Colburn Wills, and Tracey 
Nutter, one day at a time is more than a mantra in 12-step programs 
or a message on a bumper sticker. For these Columbus residents and an 
estimated 1 million fellow Ohioans recovering from alcohol and drug 
problems, it truly is the essence of life or death.

To Gov. Ted Strickland, a former prison psychologist who for years 
worked with agencies treating substance abusers, this is familiar territory.

Strickland told The Dispatch that he will take a far broader, more 
holistic approach to dealing with substance abuse than his Republican 
predecessors, who held sway for 16 years.

"We need to break the cycle of arrest and incarceration," he said, 
"to bring together criminal justice, mental health, drug and alcohol 
treatment, and those responsible for housing and job training to give 
an individual a realistic chance of regaining control of their lives."

Strickland said if the state had focused on prevention and treatment 
in the past, rather than place such a heavy emphasis on law 
enforcement, "We would have been more successful in the so-called war 
on drugs."

He acknowledged that shifting gears will be challenging with limited 
resources. But he vowed not to "ask the most vulnerable among us to 
pay a disproportionate price" for balancing the state budget.

The architect of this effort will be Angela Cornelius, 45, head of 
Project Linden, a Columbus inner-city treatment center and 
Strickland's pick to run the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug 
Addiction Services.

"It's good to be drug-free, but drug-free and unemployed is a 
problem," she said. "We need to look at them as a whole person and 
talk about child care, housing, transportation and employment.

"We really are trying to teach people how to live."

Treatment plus jobs and housing

Paul H. Coleman, on the front lines of the war on drugs and alcohol 
as Maryhaven president and chief executive officer, agrees that 
Strickland's holistic approach makes sense. He said jobs and housing 
must accompany treatment, or recovery won't succeed.

Maryhaven, a Columbus alcohol and drug treatment center, partnered 
with the Community Shelter Board, National Church Residences, the 
city of Columbus and the federal government to open a staffed 
110-unit supportive housing project for people in recovery, he said.

"Employment is a strong predictor of continued wellness," Coleman 
said. "They have to fill their time with constructive activities 
(like) going to meetings and searching for a job."

Treatment saves money in the long run, he added, citing a 1996 study 
showing that for every $1 invested in Maryhaven, Franklin County 
saved $2 in averted jail and emergency room costs.

"It's about lives and dollars. An investment in behavioral health 
care pays off not only for the patient and those who love them, but 
for the community as well."

Here are some success stories of people who snatched life from the 
jaws of addiction.


The daughter of a Presbyterian minister mom, Erica Smith spent much 
of her time as a youngster in the Church by the Side of the Road in 
Berkeley, Calif., near her home in Oakland.

Smith moved around as she was growing up, landing in Orangeburg, 
S.C.; Louisville, Ky.; and, finally, Columbus.

After high school, she enrolled at King College in Bristol, Tenn. By 
then, she'd started smoking pot and crack and drinking heavily. She 
was asked to leave the school and never graduated.

Things went downhill quickly.

When she was working, Smith frequently got off the bus and blew her 
entire paycheck on crack before she got home.

Her disoriented trip to the crisis center and a subsequent stay at 
Maryhaven saved her life, Smith said.

Now 37, she works at Goodwill Industries, assessing clients with 
disabilities. She also has a part-time job at Maryhaven, counseling 
women on the same path she traveled.

Smith took a chance and tried out for the Columbus Comets semi-pro 
women's football team. She won a spot as an offensive tackle.

Despite her seemingly normal lifestyle, staying clean and sober is a 
struggle every day, she said.

"This is a disease where you'll never be cured," she said. "But 
today, everything's OK."


On the East Side, Steve Covington was known as "Sport Coat" because 
of his fondness for flashy clothes. Long before bling came into the 
pop-culture lexicon, Covington lived a glitzy lifestyle.

He hung out on the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and 20 th Street, 
"trying to be cool, but I was really a dressed-up bum," he said.

His descent into abuse lasted 30 tortured years. From 17 to 47, 
Covington was on a slippery slope of drugs and prison.

Covington, 57, began using drugs as a youngster while hanging out 
with friends at Franklin Park. "It gave me courage. It made me feel 
like I was more than I was," he said.

He married briefly and tried to live the straight and narrow life. 
But the lure of the streets was too strong.

Covington went to Hollywood, hoping to make it as a singer. A job in 
a shop pressing clothes for the stars was as close as he got to show 
business. He eventually returned to Columbus.

He was in and out of prison a dozen times. When he was released, the 
drug spiral started all over again.

Alcohol. Marijuana. Cocaine. Heroin. Covington used them all.

"Sometimes I had thousands of dollars in the morning. But (by) the 
end of the day, I had no money. I was looking for cigarette butts to smoke."

He crashed on March 8, 1997, nearly dying after overdosing on heroin. 
With the support of his mother, Jean Covington, now 81, he was able 
to kick his lifelong habits. He's now a counselor at Maryhaven. The 
temptations are buried deep but never gone. "Sometimes 24 hours is 
too many hours in a day," he said.

Sarah and Colburn Sarah Wills loved smoking pot. Sometimes, she got 
high between leaving her car and reaching her front door. A native of 
Steubenville, Wills didn't see her marijuana use as problem even 
though she started before she was a teenager. She was coping, she 
figured, and never moved to harder drugs.

But after moving to Columbus in 1983, a troubled marriage, her 
long-time marijuana use and three jobs distracted her from the 
mounting problems confronting her son, Colburn.

Like his mom, Colburn started smoking pot when he was 12. He had been 
a good student, but his grades plummeted in middle school.

His mother didn't find out about his drug use until she was called to 
school when Colburn was 15.

While Wills, 44, kicked her marijuana habit several years ago, the 
problems continued for Colburn, who was in and out of several youth facilities.

Finally, Franklin County Children Services stepped in and removed him 
from her custody so he could get treatment.

Released after spending five months at Maryhaven, Colburn, who turns 
17 this month, is working full time. He's enrolled in an online 
classroom program so he can finish high school.

Treatment "made Colburn feel there are other people like him," his 
mother said. "I think what they did was broke him and rebuilt him.

"We're definitely moving forward."


Child abuse stole much of Tracey Nutter's childhood.

She began sneaking leftover drinks from her parents when she was a 
child and got drunk for the first time at 14; she had to have her 
stomach pumped.

"I remember distinctly wanting to see what it felt like to not care 
about anybody or anything."

As a young adult, Nutter moved to New Mexico, hoping for a new start, 
escaping everyone and everything in her life.

But she packed her problems like luggage and took them with her. She 
got involved in abusive relationships and smoked up all the money she made.

When Nutter moved back to Wilmington to be near her father, things 
only got worse. She often smoked crack with him.

She was a nurse, but Nutter couldn't stop using, not even when she 
got pregnant. She lost her license. Her wakeup call came three days 
after her son was born: Children Services took him from her arms. She 
was alone and scared. Nutter, now 37, finally sought treatment and 
has been clean and sober for 17 months. She views her sobriety as "a 
raindrop of time" compared to the rest of her life. She got her son 
and her license back and returned to nursing. "I fight it every day," 
Nutter said. "It's a successful day when I don't use." One harsh 
reality stops her. "If I use again, I would use until I die."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman