Eyewitness News continues its special initiative “A Community in Pain” on Wednesday. We’re partnering with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force to address the ongoing opioid crisis in the Tri-State area.

Wednesday’s focus turns to people trying to recover from opioid addiction and the many programs that are there to help them.

Brad Byrd talks with Donna Lilly who is a licensed clinical social worker with Deaconess Hospital and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann about helping people over opioid addiction.

Transcript of interview:

Brad Byrd: “We’re continuing our Eyewitness News special initiative “A Community in Pain.” Eyewitness News is partnering with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force to address the opioid crisis in the Tri-state. And tonight our focus turns to recovering from drug addiction. It is certainly easier said than done. I’m joined tonight by Donna Lilly who is a licensed clinical social worker with Deaconess Hospital and Nick Hermann — the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor. And Donna you’re also a licensed clinical addiction counselor and we’re going to be talking about why that is so critical in what you do in just a couple of minutes but, first, this is a problem we were talking that appeared to be under the radar just a few short years ago. Meth seemed to be the.. well, the substance abuse problem that was getting all of the ink and the time on TV. What are you seeing locally happening though now with heroin addiction – this opioid addiction in the numbers of the people you’re seeing.” 

Donna Lilly: “Well, I’m seeing a lot more definitely. In just as short of time as five years ago, we very rarely saw people who were using heroin. We did see some people who were abusing prescription drugs, but the heroin really came on the scene about three years ago. And it has uh, it’s been quite a problem.”

Brad Byrd: “And Nick, you’ve been pushing this initiative from the outset and you were there for the Celebrate Recovery meeting tonight at Bethel Church on the east side. And we were seeing some cases where these individuals who are in the middle of recovery, were so close – just an incident away – of instead of recovering, spending time in jail. And that’s where you kind of have to thread the needle so many times, law enforcement, on what do we do? Is this an addiction problem or is this a .. is this a criminal problem?” 

Nick Hermann: “Addiction can lead you to do things that you wouldn’t do sober. And so, a lot of times, we’ll have people that are intoxicated or high that commit acts – violent acts sometimes –  that they wouldn’t do if they were sober and in their right mind. So, recovery is a process. It’s something that doesn’t magically happen one day. It’s something that you have to work toward every day. And I think what you saw tonight at that meeting was, people were very early on in the recovery process and then, as I recall, there was one individual that had been clean for 35 years that was still there offering support for others and also getting support from the group.”

Brad Byrd: “And Donna, when we talk about recovery. I mean, and that is one of the biggest complaints that I have heard from people who have had members of their family touched by addiction, is that it can’t be done in just a short period of time and you said it’s taken years to get to this point. Do you see it that way, too?” 

Donna Lilly: “Absolutely. Absolutely. We see addiction as a brain disease. And the brain becomes so damaged physically and chemically and in order for that brain to heal, it takes a lot of time. And, you know, sometimes people come in and they expect a little 30 day wonder cure and they don’t understand the time it takes to put into recovery meetings and to group counseling and individual counseling. And sometimes people just aren’t prepared for that.”

Brad Byrd: “And you’re a social worker. You’re licensed also with addiction counseling but, where do you begin? I mean, when someone reaches out to you, and you told me earlier this evening counting the groups and the people you see, you’re talking about 100 people in a one week period. Where do you begin? How do you treat someone to recover from addiction?”

Donna Lilly: “Well, the first thing we do is we try to do a thorough assessment. We want to know what’s going on with this person as far as their use history. What’s going on with their family. What’s going on with them medically. What’s going on with their employment and with their legal status. And we try to put a program together that will be beneficial to them. Sometimes people have co-occurring disorders. They have psychiatric issues as well as substance abuse issues. So, we start out by doing an assessment, and then we see that addiction is primarily a disease. So, we want to treat that addiction first. We want to put that on the front burner because we can help somebody get a job. But if they’re not clean and sober, if they’re not stable in their recovery, the job is going to go by the wasteside.” 

Brad Byrd: “And we talked to a young man by the name of Johnny Phillips. He was convicted of dealing meth, spent time in jail, he’s now been clean he says for a little more than a year. And, Nick, I don’t believe he went through drug court. But drug court is one way to keep non-violent offenders out of jail and possibly getting help. How does drug court work in Vanderburgh County?” 

Nick Hermann: “Drug court is more of a wholistic approach. Somebody who is spending a week in jail or a couple weeks in jail doesn’t solve an addiction. So, drug court is something where there is accountability over a period of time. You work with the program, you work with the judge, and they try to address all the different issues in your life. People who do have a drug addiction do have a chemical dependency, but they also have other problems. They have legal problems, they have marital problems, they have issue with custody, they may be involved with the Department of Child Services, they have employment issues, and it’s an attempt to try to address all those things. Judge Trockman and Judge Kiely do a great job of working with that program and the individuals in that program to try to get them on a path to heal and to be able to move along with their recovery.” 

Brad Byrd: “And Donna, you told me you have to compartmentalize some of the things that happen in the workplace with the nature of what you do. If has to touch you because you told me you get all kinds of phone calls for help. Kind of walk me through that briefly if you can just the types of …”

Donna Lilly: “Well, sometimes we get calls from families, and they’re desperate for something to happen for their loved ones that they can get themselves into recovery. They’re desperate to find a treatment program for them. We get calls from people that are chemically dependent themselves that have substance abuse disorders. They’re looking for treatment. Sometimes they don’t have insurance. They don’t have money.” 

Brad Byrd: “So, what’s your advice to those people when they do call? What’s the answer to them?” 

Donna Lilly: “For the families, I encourage families to attend families anonymous to help them understand that they’re powerless over this disease, and I also encourage for their family members to call for an appointment or come in to see our care team for an assessment, and sometimes they have to be hospitalized. Sometimes we can put them in an outpatient program. If a person calls in themselves and they have a concern about their own addiction, we always encourage them to come in and see someone.” 

Brad Byrd: “Well, Donna Lilly with Deaconess Hospital and Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann, thank you so much. This is the third segment or chapter if you will of our initiative ‘A Community in Pain’. And next week, we will be broadcasting live from the place where sometimes the final act is played out. Unfortunately, that is at the county morgue. That will be coming up next week. Once again, thank you for being with us tonight.” 

Nick Hermann: “Thank you for having us.” 

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(This story was originally published on November 22, 2017)