Jamie Rogers stands in the dining room of Peru’s All Things Are Possible recovery house in January. Rogers, a recovering addict, had been living in the house for about six months as of January as she worked to put her life back together. Staff photo by Jared Keever
Jamie Rogers stands in the dining room of Peru’s All Things Are Possible recovery house in January. Rogers, a recovering addict, had been living in the house for about six months as of January as she worked to put her life back together. Staff photo by Jared Keever
When Jamie Rogers was arrested last year on drug charges, she started down a path she hopes will finally break the hold that heroin and other opioids had over her.

“I don’t think I would be sitting here today,” she told the Tribune in January, recounting her last arrest and how it led her to Peru’s recovery house.

Seated in the front room of the West Second Street home dubbed the All Things Are Possible, or ATAP, House, Rogers recounted the history that led her to where she is today.

“I didn’t think I would ever be a heroin addict,” she said.

But a history of abuse of other drugs and what she called a “toxic relationship” led her to trying the drug that she says so controlled her life that she could think of little else.

“Before I knew it, that’s what my life consisted of,” she said. “And when I tried to stop, I got sick.”

Rogers is not alone.

The problem


Her story is not unlike the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of those in the United States who have found themselves hooked on the powerful drugs.

Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that, in 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids.

“Specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers and 745,000 people used heroin,” a fact sheet on the department’s website says.

It is drug use that has taken a deadly toll.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that between 1999 and 2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an opioid overdose. In 2019, alone, more than 70 percent – nearly 50,000 – of overdose deaths involved an opioid. Opioid deaths, including those caused by heroin, prescription opioids, like OxyContin, and synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have increased over six times since 1999, the CDC says.

The federal agency hasn’t yet published data beyond 2019. And while deaths through that year for heroin and “commonly prescribed opioids’’ show signs of plateauing, or even decreasing slightly, the category of “other synthetic opioids” continues a dramatic climb. Taken together, it means that deaths of all opioids combined also continue to climb.

Between 2018 and 2019, for instance, the CDC says that prescription opioid deaths decreased by 7 percent. Heroin involved deaths dropped by more than 6 percent during that same period. But synthetic opioid deaths jumped by more than 15 percent for an overall increase of more than 6 percent for all opioid deaths.

Numbers out of Miami County in recent years mirror that general trend.

The county health department says that in 2017 and 2018 there were four overdose deaths in the county each of those years. In 2019, there were two. In 2020, there were five, and in 2021, six.

In Peru, the city police department tracks closely the number of overdose – or “suspected overdose” – calls officers are dispatched to.

Assistant Police Chief Feller said they also track how many doses of Naloxone – an easily administered drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose – they administer each year.

In 2016, the first year officers started carrying the drug, they went on 14 calls and administered 21 doses. Numbers waned for a few years, Feller recounted as he read off the stats during a January interview with the Tribune. In 2017, there were seven calls and 10 doses administered. In 2018, nine calls and 16 doses followed by six calls and seven doses in 2019.

“And then we explode,” he said.

Officers saw 14 calls and administered 27 doses in 2020, and then 19 calls and 26 doses in 2021.

By the third week of January, Feller said, officers had responded to two calls and administered three doses.

Federal authorities posit that the opioid crisis and the deaths associated with it have come in three “distinct waves.”

The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) increasing since at least 1999,” the CDC website says.

The second, generally thought to have begun around 2010, saw deaths rise as a result of heroin use.

“The third wave began in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl,” the CDC says.

That fentanyl market, “continues to change,” the agency says, with illicitly manufactured, powerful fentanyl now being found in combination with other drugs, including heroin, cocaine and counterfeit pills.

It’s what Feller called a “perfect storm.”

“When I was young in my career, we rarely saw heroin,” he said.

Years ago, methamphetamine was a big problem, Feller recalled. And while it still is a problem, law enforcement and legislators worked to choke off the supply of ingredients with which users would “cook” the drug on their own.

As those laws started to show results, the prescription opioid wave, followed by heroin, seemed to replace some of the methamphetamine use, Feller said.

A new way of thinking

It hasn’t gone unnoticed and it’s brought significant changes.

“We have evolved to treat these patients for overdose as though they have a disease,” Feller said.

The same could be said for much of the rest of the criminal justice system.

As addiction problems continued to plague courts and jails, jurisdictions around the country began adopting what are often called “drug courts.”

These days, such courts are lumped into a broader category that is often referred to as “problem solving courts.” Their general purpose is aimed at reducing recidivism and getting people help rather than simply punishing them.

“Problem-solving courts began in the 1990s to accommodate justice involving individuals with specific needs and problems that were not or could not be adequately addressed in traditional courts,” the State of Indiana’s website says. “ Problem-solving courts seek to promote outcomes that will benefit not only the justice involved individual, but the victim and society as well. Thus problem-solving courts were developed as an innovative response to deal with individuals’ needs, including drug abuse and mental illness. Results from studies show that these types of courts are having a positive impact on the lives of justice involved individuals and victims and in some instances provide cost-savings for jails and prisons.”

In Miami County, that began back in 2014.

Miami County Circuit Court Judge Tim Spahr told the Tribune in January that “stakeholders” in the county first approached him about a drug court shortly after he took office in 2012.

“We started what we called the Community Based Treatment Program,” he recalled. “It wasn’t a state certified program at that point.”

Unsure of whether it would work and weather the county could bear the administrative costs of the fully certified program, they opted to start slow.

“We wanted to see how it would go,” he said.

After three years, they paused, took a look at their numbers, he recalled, “We said, ‘OK, we are not seeing as many people get (re-)arrested.’”

They continued on, achieving state certification in January 2019.

Since the start of the full program, he said, they have admitted 41 people into the program. Eight have been terminated, he said, and 14 have graduated.

“Last time we checked … we only had one-person re-arrested,” he said.

The program, he explained, is generally administered one of two ways.

Those accused of a drug-related crime, upon agreement of the prosecutor’s office and the person’s attorney can plead guilty, be adjudicated as such and have their sentence suspended as they work to complete the program.

In other cases, they can plead guilty, the court will “stay” the entry of conviction, Spahr explained, upon which they enter the program and then can have the case dismissed upon graduation.

But what they are signing up for, when they enter, is not easy.

“Phase I is pretty intense,” says Angie Bever, the director of Miami County Community Corrections and administrator of the local drug court. “The focus is on stabilization.”

“Initially when they are admitted into drug court we get started pretty quickly,” she said. “Our goal is to have them in treatment immediately.”

That continues for months, she explained, with four to five days a week in some sort of treatment “programming,” twice-a-week drug tests, and home visits for those who are on home detention.

While perhaps slightly less intense, the additional phases don’t necessarily get easier. Those in the program end up seeking employment, getting issues with their driver’s license resolved, and working to reunite with children if they’ve been removed from the home.

They also work to resolve other underlying issues.

“I think we are finding that therapy is a key component to dealing with this population,” Bever said. “Many of them have trauma and many of them have mental health issues.”

Bever, who has worked in Community Corrections for 20 years, has come to recognize addiction as a “cycle” that affects not only individuals, but families.

“I’ve seen families who are just devastated by addiction,” she said.

It’s a cycle that Spahr agrees is difficult to break, and one that both he and Bever saw as reason enough to try something beyond simply locking up offenders.

Spahr said it was worth questioning whether there was an alternative.

Bever seems to agree.

“My philosophy is always: ‘If what you are doing isn’t working, what are you out to try something new?’” she said.

Recovery


Arrests weren’t breaking that cycle for Rogers, either.

The last arrest in 2021 wasn’t her first. She’d been to jail before.

“And everytime I went, I went right back to it,” she said.

The pull of the drug is strong, not only because of its addictive properties, but because the pain of detoxing from it is so great, including crippling bouts of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“There would be times when I am sweating so bad,” she said as she recalled such an episode.

“I need something, just a little bit,” she said she would tell herself. “But it’s never a little bit.”

Heroin was typically what she would try to get, she said, but if she couldn’t find it she would try for pills.

Now, though, she hopes those days are behind her.

As of January, she had been at the ATAP House for six months.

Her legal troubles still pending, she was hopeful that she would be officially accepted into the county’s drug court in early February.

Already, though, she had managed to get a job, a car, insurance, and even reunited with a daughter that she hadn’t seen in four years.

Those types of promising first steps, or perhaps others like achieving a high school equivalency, are important on the road to the ultimate goal of recovery, Bever says.

“To me that’s a success,” she said of the GED example. “I am learning to celebrate the small things.”

For Rogers, as she fights her way back to a more stable life, she is learning to appreciate things, too, including herself.

“This is the first time in my life that I have done it for myself,” she said.
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