Pubdate: Sun, 10 Apr 2016
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2016 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: K. Burnell Evans


Brian Coddington, 29, relapsed two weeks into another second chance 
last month. Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard rejects criticism of 
the jail's drug programas being soft on crime.

He was out on bond and in a recovery program, awaiting a court date 
in Chesterfield County on charges stemming from his heroin addiction.

This time, for once, he knew exactly what to do. So on March 23 his 
mother drove him to the Chesterfield jail on Mimms Road, where he met 
his bail bondsman and turned himself over to the custody of Sheriff 
Karl Leonard.

It is here, beyond the gray doors and successive sets of locked 
entrances, that Coddington-who has been in and out of jail about 10 
times in as many years - currently feels most free.

That's because here, Coddington said, he has a fighting chance at 
recovery through a program Leonard launched last month to help people 
addicted to heroin and other opioids confront the behavior that keeps 
landing them in his jail.

"I'm tired of the same people coming back in here over and over again 
because the underlying problem-the disease - isn't being addressed," 
Leonard said.

And the numbers of people living with opioid addictions and dying of 
them keeps growing. Police departments in the city of Richmond and 
the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico report a suspected 
37 opioid-related deaths thus far in 2016. At least 181 others 
overdosed on the drugs and survived.

At 53, the number of people in Chesterfield who overdosed on opioids 
and survived in the first few months of 2016 equals the total for all 
of 2014. And the 11 fatalities exceed 2014' s death toll by one.

 From this Jan. 1 to April 7, Chesterfield police tracked 106 
overdoses from other substances and only one non-opioid overdose death.

Coddington's last arrest occurred in February right after his cousin 
overdosed on heroin; his cousin's heart stopped twice in the 
ambulance on his way to the hospital, but he ultimately survived.

"My family doesn't deserve it. I've got a 96- year-old grandmother I 
take care of on a regular basis, and she asks me all the time when I 
get on the phone - in tears, you know - ' Why? Why?' " Coddington 
said. "She doesn't understand it. My family is starting to 
understand, though, that's it's more than just an addiction - it's a disease."

Leonard said the dire consequences the county is experiencing as a 
result of increasing opioid abuse spurred him to action. Although his 
inmates had and continue to have access to other substance abuse 
services, opioids warrant special attention, Leonard said.

He resolved on a Monday to launch an initiative focused on the drugs. 
By Wednesday, staff workers from the Henricobased nonprofit McShin 
Foundation were on the ground, pushing inmates who volunteered and 
qualified to chase recovery as hard as they had chased their addictions.

"( Leonard) sees an opportunity to make the system better, and he's 
taking it," said John Shinholser, president of the McShin Foundation, 
which was founded in 2004 and now offers services in five area jails. 
"It takes courage to do what he's doing, to address something head- on."

Leonard said some critics have panned the move as being soft on crime.

"But for a lot of these folks, this is the best chance they have of 
getting better," he said. "If we can reach them while they are here, 
they're less likely to come back, and ultimately that will save us - 
and therefore the taxpayers - money."

Others want to know why law enforcement's evolving view on substance 
abuse and its ills - from the zero-tolerance war on drugs to an 
emerging public health concern - didn't come sooner.

"That's like asking why we treated our veterans after Desert Storm 
better than we did after Vietnam," Leonard said. "If we can do 
better, why wouldn't we want to?"

He has not yet tallied how much the program will cost but expects it 
will take about $ 30,000 in staffing and services. Those resources 
will come from the existing annual budget, he said.

The bulk of the expense is being borne by McShin, which is paying two 
recovering addicts to coach participants through the program.

"Whatever it takes to get these guys to choose hope, not dope," 
Shinholser said.

The inmates live in a separate pod together, take their meals 
together, participate in structured group discussions, learn from 
guest speakers and work a curriculum. They have assignments, face 
past actions and denial, and build trust, Shinholser said.

"It's authentic," he said. "These aren't social workers or clinicians 
coming in without the life experience. These guys have been there. 
They know what the ( participants) are going through."

Leonard said he will shuffle positions around so a deputy is assigned 
to the unit full time for consistency.

"If you want to start talking costs, let's talk about the cost of 
locking people up," Leonard said. "If even a handful of folks go 
through this and don't come back through these doors, it'll be more 
than worth it."

The latest report on jail expenses to the General Assembly placed the 
daily operating cost of housing an inmate at a jail such as 
Chesterfields at $ 91.71, or about $ 33,500 annually.

McShin absorbs almost all of the costs it bears to bring its services 
to area jails, Shinholser said.

It's an expense, he said, "but what price would you pay to save a life?"

Program participant Taylor Grow, 23, had his heart stop twice eight 
days apart in February after overdosing and was revived by paramedics.

"I still think about ( heroin) every day," he said. "I think about it 
at night. Sometimes, I even dream about it."

More often, he thinks about the girlfriend he had before he relapsed 
for the first time in six months.

"She shouldn't have had to deal with all this," Grow said. "I hope 
she can forgive me."

First, he will have to forgive himself.

"The hardest question I've had to answer since coming here is, ' 
What's the worst thing you've done to somebody you loved?' " Coddington said.

He has stolen from family members, and they know it. He doesn't want 
to bring it up on the phone.

"I want to express my apology face-to-face," he said.

It's a step forward for someone who shot up to numb his feelings 
instead of confronting them, he said. Disclosure is new.

"They get it," Coddington said of the fellow members of the opioid 
group. He sat in a cell overlooking a common area where they were 
gathered below, their heads bent over their composition books.

"When I'm around them, it feels like my hair's standing up straight 
on my head. It feels like I'm a different person," he said. "I don't 
know how to explain it. I just feel better inside."

Leonard plans to track the progress of program members after their 
release. They're encouraged to keep coming back for meetings, he 
said, for as long as they want the help.
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