Ohioans working in local communities to treat, educate, and prevent addiction to opioids and heroin may soon see an increase in federal funding to support new and existing programs in the state.
In a press statement Friday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), announced the CARA conference report passed with a bipartisan vote in the House.
CARA, the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, is legislation designed to ensure that federal resources are focused on evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs that have been tested and proven effective in local communities, according to portman.senate.gov.
In March, CARA initially passed the Senate by a vote of 94-1 and May 13 the legislation passed the House by a vote of 400-5. During the final conference stage, the House and Senate are working out the language in the final version of the bill.
Friday’s press statement also announced the conference report changed the amount of federal funding for new programs.
”The CARA conference agreement authorizes $181 million in annual discretionary spending for new programs contained in the legislation. That’s more than double – a 132 percent increase– the authorization level in the original Senate-passed CARA bill ($78 million),” wrote Sen. Portman. Some of that funding would provide new treatment programs for veterans.
Sen. Portman visited the House of Hope in Columbus Friday, July 1, to listen to veterans talk about their experiences. Men spoke about their struggles with opioids, heroin, and drug addiction and how the treatment in the Men’s Residential Program helped them to create a healthy, clean lifestyle.
John Aulette was one of a few veterans who spoke with Sen. Portman about his addiction and recovery.
“I completed the House of Hope Program about a year ago almost to the day,” said Aulette.
Aulette said he had joined the Air Force about a year after he graduated from high school, during which time he traveled to England, Germany, Kuwait and Bulgaria.
“I think that’s when I started noticing I had a problem. I definitely was drinking and using drugs differently than everybody else did: a lot of synthetics, things they couldn’t test for at that time in the military. I ended up getting kicked out in 2011. I got a DUI, possession, distribution of those substances. I came home and started with prescription painkillers, then I went to heroin. It got pretty bad for me pretty quick,” said Aulette.
Aulette said at that time in his life he started staying at different shelters in Columbus.
“I ended up homeless. I went to a couple of psych wards for multiple suicide attempts. I was never able to hold a job full time,” said Aulette.
He said he tried a lot of different programs for treatment but that they seemed to be only temporary fixes to his problems.
“One time I completed the treatment for out-patient and still couldn’t stay sober for a very long time,” said Aulette.
Aulette said in the end he was sleeping mostly outside, panhandling, stealing, and doing whatever he had to do to get by.
“I was going in and out of jail pretty regularly,” said Aulette.
He then became suicidal because of his addiction.
“I was killing myself slowly. I didn’t care if I was alive or dead at that point,” said Aulette.
Then, he found his way into a three-month treatment center in Columbus instead of jail.
“I went into Maryhaven, I stayed there for three months, and then I got into House of Hope and this program absolutely changed my life,” said Aulette. “I think one of the bigger things that helped me get acclimated is the recovery community.”
He said House of Hope forced him to get outside of himself and build a supportive network.
“The sober living house was really huge for me in being here. We just kind of feed off of each other as motivation. There’s always somebody to go to a meeting with, or somebody trying to live by the same values as I am and are taking my recovery seriously,” said Aulette.
He said the Men’s Residential Program helped him to achieve a better quality of life.
“It’s just the little things. The kitchen utensils and furniture. I don’t have to worry about starting off with nothing. It’s been a great experience,” said Aulette.
He now works as a mentor a couple of days a week as a counselor’s assistant in the House of Hope.
“I also work at a specialty hospital,” said Aulette.
Aulette still lives in a sober house. They don’t have a date to get out, but are encouraged to move on into their own housing once they are in a position to do so.
“I’m about to start school in August. I’m not making a ton of money right now, but it will be nice to get myself situated,” said Aulette.
Aulette said he considers himself lucky. He has parents who have supported his recovery the entire time.
The additional funding in the CARA legislation would help programs that are already established, said Sen. Portman, but also the legislation will create more opportunities for treatment, especially in places where there aren’t any residential programs for men or for veterans.
“The additional funding can help to start some new programs in rural areas where there’s not the ability to get treatment,” said Portman.
Southern Ohioans would usually commute an hour or more to get into a residential treatment program in Cincinnati or Columbus, and sometimes the waiting lists at those programs can be three to six months.
“Some people are hesitant to get treatment in the big city, Columbus or Cincinnati, if they live in a rural area they want to stay closer to home,” said Portman.
Beyond treatment, the CARA legislation can help to expand the education and prevention. Portman said it would hopefully help to show young people what brain damage looks like from opioids and heroin.
“The education and prevention is going to be everywhere. That’s the idea, that there would be a national awareness campaign on the link between prescription drugs and heroin and overdoses because in those areas, in southern Ohio, we have a lot of prescription drug impact. Sometimes people just don’t get it, that these prescription drugs can be so dangerous. That’s definitely going to help,” said Portman.
The House of Hope Men’s Residential Program teaches skills and offers tools to the residents like behavioral cognitive therapy, coping strategies, and healthy living and wellness. Aulette said he learned important skills to take care of himself that are essential to his recovery and that the sober house gave him the ability to get back into old healthy routines.
“It’s a great model,” Portman said of the Men’s Residential Program at House of Hope.
“House of Hope definitely gave me the tools I need to stay sober for the rest of my life. As long as I can keep applying these things that were taught to me here to continue to stay sober, I know I’ll stay sober,” said Aulette.
He said he sees it working for other people who are going through the Men’s Residential Program. For them, their focus on recovery becomes the center of their lives. But Aulette said that addiction is not something that ever goes away.
“I think this is going to work for me: to remember everyday for the rest of my life that I’m an addict and that I’m never going to stop being an addict. I’m never going to wake up one day like ‘Ugh, I’m glad I got that behind me, I can just go and live like a normal person now.’ I have to do things for my recovery everyday. I have to keep that as a priority, anything else that I put ahead of my recovery is going to make me end up losing again if I relapse. It’s important that I keep recovery at the center of my life,” said Aulette.
“The day that I went to get some help, I was living inside an abandoned car inside of an abandoned garage in a not-so-nice part of town. At that point in my life I had pretty much given up on any chance for a good life. I knew for a fact I was never going to get sober and I was going to die in the streets rather than get better,” said Aulette. “Now I’m in recovery and it’s working. I think it’s pretty amazing, it’s pretty exciting to see all the support for addiction treatment in the mainstream now.”
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton