Thursday, January 21, 2010

Addiction is a Disease-Marietta

Matthew Fourman, died Jan. 1 after a long battle with opiate addiction. Fourman’s battle with drugs helped shed light on the problem in Washington County, but it continues to be an issue and resources to help with addiction have been decreasing.
At age 17, Matthew Fourman was popular, living in Devola with his family, attending Marietta High School with plans to go to The Ohio State University.

On New Year's Day, at age 32, Fourman died in a Columbus recovery house after a 15-year battle with opiate addiction.

Between 2001 and 2009, at least 47 Washington County residents have died as a result of drug abuse. Hundreds more have suffered near-fatal overdoses.

For Matt, addiction began late in his high school career after he was prescribed a painkiller for a knee injury incurred while running track.

The disease of addiction took hold and although Matt continued to battle, often publicly, he could never break free from drugs.

"When you are the parent of an addict, you know this could happen, but nothing ever prepares you for the day when the sheriff comes to your door," said the man's mother, Rosie Fourman, of Devola.

During his battle with addiction, Matt also fought to bring change to the local community by participating in a community drug study, calling for increased treatment options, including a recovery house, and allowing himself to be interviewed for a series of articles in The Marietta Times about his struggles with addiction.

Matt's story and his efforts with various recovery groups helped shed light on a serious drug problem affecting many people in the area.

But many of the things Matt and others championed are now gone.

Within the past few years, funding cuts have caused Washington County to lose chemical dependency treatment services at Marietta Memorial Hospital and the county's drug court programs have stopped operating.

"Matt was a kid who had everything going for him and every opportunity available. ... Where are families and addicts going to turn tomorrow when they need help?" Rosie Fourman asked.

Cathy Harper, local program director of The Right Path, said it is hard knowing the local addiction problem hasn't improved, but watching treatment services disappear.

"Addiction is a disease, just like cancer is a disease," she said. "People would be up in arms if there was ever talk about getting rid of cancer treatment options in the area."

The drug court allowed judges to consider treatment for non-violent offenders with substance abuse problems. Most offenders who may have qualified for the program now are sentenced to jail or placed on probation.

The program was operated by Washington County Common Pleas Court and was funded by a three-year, $450,000 federal grant, which expired and could not be renewed.

Last fall, Marietta Memorial Hospital closed its mental health and chemical dependency units, saying they were losing an estimated $500,000 annually.

The loss of a drug court and mental health and addiction services has not only limited options for judges, it also put more pressure on the Washington County Jail. Sheriff's officials have estimated that when the 124-bed facility is full, more than 90 percent of the inmates are there on drug-related charges.

"There is certainly a need for chemical dependency centers," Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said. "We have been hurt by the loss of those services. Actually, we've also been hurt by the loss of mental health services. Chemical dependency and mental health problems often go hand-in-hand."

When the county began the drug court program, there was nearly $70 million available in federal funds to help get courts launched and maintained. Last year, there was less than $4 million available, and most of it was earmarked for communities with high crystal meth problems."

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