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Brad Byrd In-Depth: Dr. William Wooten talks substance abuse task force

The City of Evansville is introducing a new weapon to crack down on drug and alcohol abuse. Advocates are using their resources to curb a longtime problem that in some cases is ending in tragedy.

It's called the Mayor's Substance Abuse Task Force. It's mission is to work with the Evansville community to promote awareness, education, prevention, and treatment of substance abuse.

Two public forums will be held this week to inform people more about the task force's mission. The first is Thursday, October 12, at Eastminster Presbyterian Church on Washington Ave. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the meeting starts at 7 p.m. The second forum is Friday, October 13, at Welborn Conference Room on Mulberry St. Doors open at 9 a.m. with the forum beginning at 9:30 a.m.

More details about the task force can be found on www.msatf.org

Brad Byrd sits down with Dr. William Wooten to discuss the Mayor's Substance Abuse Task Force and the impact it hopes to have on curbing the city's substance abuse problem.

Transcript of interview: 

Brad Byrd: "And welcome to In-Depth. The City of Evansville is introducing a new weapon to crack down on drug and alcohol abuse. Advocates who are using their resources to curb a longtime problem that in some case is ending in tragedy. It's called the Mayor's Substance Abuse Task Force, which will work with the community to promote awareness, education, prevention, and treatment. I'm joined tonight by Dr. William Wooten, he is a longtime leader in the fight to end what's become in some circles a crisis. Dr. Wooten, good to see you again. We were talking in the newsroom. First we have to raise awareness. Do you feel the community is in tune with what's really happening right now? Especially with all of these opiod-related cases and the rise in substance abuse in some circles here?"

Dr. William Wooten: "I think we're aware of the increasing number of deaths related to opiod overdoses or overdoses in general. As you know, we've exceeded last year's death rate with regard to overdoses in Vanderburgh County. About 18 to 20 of those 50, some overdoses are related to opiates. Some of those cases are suicides and on occasion that's not mentioned in the media. So it's hard for people to clearly understand exactly what's going on with regard to that particular number. Another thing that makes it difficult to really get a clear feeling for what's happening with regard to the opiod issue is that everybody who's trying to address the problem, whether it be law enforcement, health care, the coroner's office, emergency rooms and so forth everybody, if you remember the old cartoon picture about the blindfolded men touching the elephant in different parts, everybody has a different perception of the problem because of the issues they deal with in their particular." 

Brad Byrd: "Is the word epidemic overused, or is it underused? Is it correct?" 

Dr. William Wooten: "I think there's certainly an increasing amount of problem related to opiates in our community. We're seeing an increasing number of emergency room visits. There's a significant number of people discharged from hospital's with an opiate-related diagnosis on the chart. But, the numbers for alcohol still exceed opiates in Vanderburgh County."

Brad Byrd: "How will this mayor's task force? How will it be different and how will this work? Can it make a difference?" 

Dr. William Wooten: "Our approach has shifted in the last year or two. We were initally pulled together after Mayor Winnecke was elected as the "No Meth Task Force" dealing with the issue of meth labs. And we saw some significant improvement over time with a reduction of labs in the community and the consequences of those labs."

Brad Byrd: "But you're saying those labs, even though there was a big dent put on those labs. Those small one-pot labs, there's still a meth problem in this community."

Dr. William Wooten: "There's still a significant meth problem. In fact, I believe meth possession arrests in Vanderburgh County are on track to maybe exceed last year's numbers."

Brad Byrd: "How's that happen?" 

Dr. William Wooten: "Well, I believe the mexican cartel saw an opportunity. Where there's a demand, they're gonna fill that demand with a supply. And that, in part, is responsible for the reduction in labs along with precursor policy changes with regulating pharmacies and prescription practices and so forth." 

Brad Byrd: "And you've got a couple of open forums or workshops coming up this week. And if we can put that graphic on the air we'll direct our viewers as to where these will be taking place. One, of course, is Thursday, October 12, at the Eastminster Presbyterian Church out on Washington Avenue. That's going to start at 7 o'clock and the next one I believe is..."

Dr. William Wooten: "Actually, the doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Starts at 7 p.m." 

Brad Byrd: "Alright, then on Friday, the Welborn Conference Room on Mulberry St., that starts at 9:30 a.m., but the doors will open a little sooner." 

Dr. William Wooten: "9 a.m."

Brad Byrd: "Okay, what happens at these workshops?" 

Dr. William Wooten: "Well, the task force invited Dr. Robert Meyers, a psychology professor from the University of New Mexico, to come to Vanderburgh County in Evansville to do two things: 1. today, tomorrow, and Thursday morning we're training 41 behavior health therapists treatment providers and Dr. Meyers intervention method called C.R.A.F.T., Community Reinforcement and Family Training. And this is a method that will help concerned significant others who are dealing with a loved one in drug addiction and alcoholism and getting that person into treatment. I have been retired as you know for several years, and I get two or three calls a week with regards of people wanting to know how they can get a friend, a family member, or a spouse into treatment. And so, we're training a number of professionals who'll be able to provide this method and counseling to people who need that kind of help." 

Brad Byrd: "And we talk about people who have perhaps had a substance abuse problem either by recreational use or possibly becoming addictive after taking pain pills or have been prescribed over a period of time or if they've been dealt this by outside forces. This is placing a big burden on law enforcement. We've had the sheriff out here. We've had medical professionals out here. Jails are filling up sometimes not only with people having mental health issues but also drug problems. Could this approach ease that burden?" 

Dr. William Wooten: "Well, as I mentioned, we're training more professions to help people intervene with loved ones. The sessions on Thursday and Friday are public sessions, free open to the public. And the first 50 people will receive a free copy of Dr. Meyers' book on getting your loved ones sober. Dr. Meyers will review the method he has developed. It's been about 75 percent effective in getting someone treated, and then we will provide a directory of those trained to coach, mentor, and counsel the concerned other and helping in the community." 

Brad Byrd: "And already states nationwide are cracking down on how narcotics are prescribed for example, and some pharmacies ... we're not sure it's across the board ... but CVS has been raising it up the flagpole as far as reducing it to seven day prescriptions as opposed to 30 days." 

Dr. William Wooten: "There's a number of ways to decrease drug use. One is to decrease the supply, law enforcement intervention, so forth. The other is to decrease demand through treatment and intervention. And a third manner is to harm reduction by needle exchanges, Medicaid assisted treatment which provides drugs that decrease cravings and provide an alternative legal drug for that person to use to maintain and withdraw symptoms while their obtaining counseling to get off the drug." 

Brad Byrd: "And we can get more information on this on the Mayor's Substance Abuse Task Force website. And can we throw that up? It's right there." 

Dr. William Wooten: "Yes, MSATF.org." 

Brad Byrd: "Alright, and of course, these public forums are going on this week. Dr. Wooten, we could go on about this, but thank you for taking the time to talk about what this task force hopes to achieve. We'll be keeping in touch with you as hopefully progress will be made on this." 

Dr. William Wooten: "Yes, details on the public forums are available on MSATF.org. I encourage people to go there to get more information." 

Brad Byrd: "Alright, Dr. Wooten, thank you so much. Good to see you." 

(This story was originally published on October 10, 2017)

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