NKRC Director: ‘Worst We’ve Ever Seen’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — It might have been a patient who became addicted to a prescription painkiller used to treat a sports injury or an injury sustained in a traffic accident. Once the prescription expired, the dependence on the drug did not, leaving the person to seek alternatives – a stronger narcotic such as heroin, for example – to satisfy this addiction.

Or, there might be underlying causes such as depression, bipolar disorder, a genetic predisposition, or another factor that helps trigger a person’s dependence on drugs or alcohol after the first uses.

Whatever the reason for substance abuse, the problem is not going away anytime soon. But there is hope for those who choose to receive treatment and help through recovery programs, says the new director of the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic, Youngstown.

“This is the worst we’ve ever seen when it comes to opiates or heroin,” says Carolyn Givens, who became the executive director of the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in January. Givens succeeds Jerry Carter, who retired after 37 years in the position.

The availability of low-cost opiates on the streets has led to an acceleration of drug use among younger people. “The grade of heroin is much more intense and it’s much cheaper,” Givens says. “That is a lethal recipe.”

The good news is that the recovery rate is high for those willing to undergo the necessary treatment.

“Addiction is a chronic and progressive illness,” Givens says. “Of the population that is in treatment, getting the care they need, and the counseling they need, they have an 80% recovery rate,” a ratio akin to patients treated successfully for diabetes.

The Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic, now a subsidiary of Gateway Rehab, was established in 1946 by Jack Deibel as a treatment center for alcoholism. The next year, Deibel turned the program over to the nonprofit Youngstown Committee on Alcoholism and named the clinic after its first executive director. It is the oldest freestanding clinic of its kind in Ohio, Givens says.

Since then, the clinic has grown to accommodate those who suffer from many of the problems – social, emotional and financial – associated with other dependencies, such as cocaine, prescription drugs and heroin. More important, the key is to address treatment through a multi-level approach that includes prevention, education, medication, detoxification, behavioral applications and housing.

“When you look at the continuum, besides inpatient care, we have intensive outpatient care at our Austintown site and another site in Howland,” Givens says.

Housing and life-skills training are critical to helping an addict into full recovery, says Craig Steinhoff, a principal at HBK CPAs and Consultants, formerly Hill Barth and King, who is serving in his second year as president of Neil Kennedy Board of Directors.

“One of the biggest struggles is when someone is ready and willing to recover, where do they go?” he asks, once he completes treatment. The need prompted Neil Kennedy to create “sober housing” along Emery Street in Youngstown, near the organization’s inpatient recovery clinic on Rush Boulevard.

“Neil Kennedy has prided itself with this approach,” Steinhoff says.

The clinic operates two houses. The Gelbman House is a sober house for men while the Emery House serves women. Each house is a 12-bed facility that helps recovering addicts cope with day-to-day tasks that will enhance their life skills when they are on their own.

More land is available along the street that would enable construction of similar houses, Steinhoff reports.

“Our hope is to turn this into a type of ‘recovery row’ where there’s a lot of safe, residential housing,” he says.

The demand is certainly there, Steinhoff says. The Gelbman House, for example, opened last Dec. 1 and was filled the next day. “Our plans are to build another one,” he says.

Steinhoff says Neil Kennedy has made the transition from an alcohol recovery clinic that focused on abstinence to a multi-discipline program that looks at the individual and addresses his personal needs.

“The demographics of those with substance abuse is changing,” he says. “It started with white males in their 30s and 40s with alcohol. Now, it’s kids in their teens and early 20s with heroin. Addiction is not a one-size-fits-all plan.”

Medication such as Suboxone helps those with opioid dependence cope as they are weaned from their addictions. “We don’t administer methadone,” Givens says, “but we have found that Suboxone and medication-assisted treatment is a very helpful tool in conjunction with therapeutic intervention.”

Of the 16 beds at Neil Kennedy’s inpatient center in Youngstown, she says 12 are filled with people dependent on opiates.

More than 1,400 clients are treated each year at the operation’s inpatient center and its outpatient centers in Austintown and Howland. Since it opened in 1946, the organization has treated more than 100,000 clients.

“Our groups are growing at all of our sites,” says Pamela Ramsey, director of outpatient services.

Ramsey says that the outpatient services started more than 2½ years ago as the rise of opiate addiction accelerated in the Mahoning Valley. “There was an opiate epidemic,” she says, “and this was something we had to look at.”

Neil Kennedy’s outpatient services include programs that provide group sessions five hours a day five days a week. Once these clients achieve a measure of stability, they are reduced to three hours a day three days a week.

“You could be here between seven to 12 months,” she says, provided that the client complies with all of the requirements of treatment, recovery programs, attends all of the 12-step meetings and has a sponsor.

Givens has spent most of her career in state government, first as a Medicaid administrator, then director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug under Gov. Bob Taft. She then took a position for seven years as director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. During the last three years of that post, she joined the Neil Kennedy board of directors.

Among the programs Givens would like to see taken on at Neil Kennedy is a workforce development component that would add to the clinic’s services.

“That takes working with a cadre of stakeholders: churches, business owners, community members. We have a built-in program that when they get clean and sober, they’re ready to work,” she says. “We have an opportunity here to do that.”

Givens notes that she’s in the midst of contacting business owners and others about creating a pilot program to help vault those recovering from addiction back into the workforce.

“Once we show that this has a proven track record,” she says, “there should be no reason for us to stop and make it a built-in set for the quality of a person’s life.”

Pictured: Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.