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A new $3.58 million grant will help addicts in South Mississippi get free treatment

Sun Herald - 8/6/2018

Aug. 06--Mississippians who want help for an opioid addiction but can't afford rehab or outpatient treatment may qualify for free help, thanks to a new federal grant.

Stand Up Mississippi received a $3.58 million grant that will allow thousands around the state better access to a 30-day residential treatment stay or outpatient treatment that includes medicines to help curb addiction.

Eighty percent of the money is being spent to expand treatment services. That means people who previously couldn't afford treatment may qualify for free inpatient or outpatient care; individual, family and group therapy; and access to medicines such as methadone, which block cravings for opioids and alcohol.

In South Mississippi alone, up to 1,800 people will be able to stay at two different treatment facilities that offer a total of 60 beds for 30-day treatment stays.

Where to find help

There is help and hope for those who want it, officials and community members said July 24 at a Biloxi town hall meeting on the state's opioid crisis. Another town hall is scheduled at 6:30 p.m.Aug. 7 at the Stone County Fairgrounds.

Cross Roads Recovery Center in Gulfport is able to offer 42 in-patient beds for 30-day stays for residents of Harrison, Hancock, Stone and Pearl River counties.

The Stevens Center in Pascagoula offers 18 beds for 30-day stays for residents of Jackson and George counties.

Statewide, there are 403 beds are available at community mental health centers, according to Adam Moore of the Mississippi State Department of Health.

For more information on addiction services, call 1-877-210-8513 or visit standupms.org.

Addiction is disease

Opioid deaths are increasing at an alarming rate, said Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher at the town hall.

"We in law enforcement can't arrest our way out of this problem," Fisher said. "It's going to take communities to help us."

Addiction is a disease, yet many in law enforcement are just beginning to come to terms with that, he said.

Fisher, a former narcotics agent, has worked undercover selling opioids and other drugs in sting operations.

"I had a low opinion of addicts," Fisher said.

"I'm ashamed of myself now," he said. "They are people who need help, and people from all walks of life can get addicted to opioids, even if they get a legitimate prescription from a doctor."

The crisis has escalated since the epidemic hit Mississippi in 2013, when 99 overdose deaths were reported.

The next year, there were 114 deaths.

Last year, there were 256.

About 74 percent of those in 2017 involved opioids, said Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy. Law enforcement officers are now required to call for an MBN agent when they respond to a fatal overdose. And coroners are required to report overdose deaths to the MBN.

There have been 110 drug overdose deaths this year in Harrison, Jackson and Pearl River counties, Dowdy said. Coroners in neighboring counties haven't reported any. Coroners in many counties don't report drug fatalities, but officials believe overdose deaths are occurring throughout the state.

The grant has provided 10,000 doses of Narcan to give out to law enforcement agencies after officers are trained to use it. Narcan, known by the generic name of naloxone, is a nasal spray that can stop an overdose in a few minutes.

"It's going to take a collaboration of all related agencies and service providers and help from communities to spread the word that help is available, and we believe it will make a difference," Steven Allen, deputy executive director of the Mississippi Health Department, said.

One man's story

Greg Bufkin of Ocean Springs knows firsthand the problems of addiction and how families of addicts need help to recover from the trauma -- whether or not their loved ones make the decision to go through recovery.

He spoke at the town hall, saying drug addiction caused him to lose one marriage (and nearly another) and his ministry as a Methodist preacher. He was an addict for 13 years and tells his story whenever he can.

He has been drug-free more than two years.

Bufkin said he became addicted to Lortab after he was prescribed it for migraines. At one point, he worked at a medical building and stole prescription pads so he could write his own prescriptions. After getting caught, he sought drugs on the street.

In February 2016, he stopped to buy what he thought was Lortab from a street dealer. He had his young daughters in the vehicle with him.

He didn't know it was actually Xanax laced with fentanyl.

"I apparently blacked out from an unintentional overdose but kept driving another 15 to 20 minutes before my body became completely unconscious," he said

"My children were traumatized."

Bufkin woke up in a hospital four days later.

His first thought was, "I need to a new dealer," he said. But he blacked out while driving alone a month later. Someone found him at a rest stop and he woke up in a hospital days later.

He and his wife decided he should seek treatment at the Home of Grace, a faith-based recovery center in Vancleave. Members of his church helped them raise money to cover the costs.

Bufkin said he's grateful for the treatment he received, but he had noticed a gap that's common among treatment centers -- no help for traumatized families and no help to learn how to deal with a recovering addict.

Bufkin works delivering lumber for an Ocean Springs business, but said his passion is El Roi Ministries, a group he and his wife Andrea started to help families of addicts.

The nonprofit uses volunteers to help families of addicts as they recover. A family may need their lawn mowed, a vehicle fixed, a bill paid, or diapers.

Volunteers also try to meet emotional and spiritual needs, and the group provides online resources to help families set healthy boundaries, deal with anger and unforgiveness and other issues, he said.

A state initiative

Opioids include prescription drugs such as oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and heroin.

Stand Up Mississippi was created after Gov. Phil Bryant established the Opioid and Heroin Study Taskforce in 2016. The taskforce looked at what has been effective in other states and at ways in which Mississippi was falling short.

The federal Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration awarded the state it's first grant in April 2017. Stand Up Mississippi received the new grant in April.

Other agencies partnering with Stand Up Mississippi are the FBI, DEA and state agencies -- Department of Health, Department of Public Safety, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, MississippiBoard of Pharmacy.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose

* Small, constricted "pinpoint pupils"

* Choking or gurgling sounds

* Falling asleep or loss of consciousness

* Slow, shallow breathing

* Limp boy

* Pale, blue or cold skin

If you believe someone has overdosed, call 911.

RobinFitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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(c)2018 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

Visit The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.) at www.sunherald.com

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