DON Services is looking to bring new life to a downtown building.
As part of those efforts, it wants to do the same for those struggling with addiction.
During a Friday night town hall meeting at the Central Building — the South Mercer Street facility that DON purchased earlier this year for $150,000 — program director Diane Shaffer announced plans for the creation of DON Recovery, a treatment program to be housed in the structure.
Shaffer retired after 27 years in the Lawrence County District Attorney’s office and was instrumental in the establishment of Drug Court, later renamed Treatment Court. DON Recovery, she said, will be based on the same model.
In introducing the plan, Shaffer cited, among other reports, the Lawrence County Human Services Plan for Fiscal Year 2017-28 that found that the need for drug and alcohol services continues to increase in Lawrence County. That mirrored a March 19 Community Assessment for Lawrence County report that said the county “has the 12th highest rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 people.”
The problem, though, isn’t just addiction.
Shaffer also referred to UPMC’s June 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment/Community Health Strategic Plan, which identified four significant health needs for Lawrence County. One is that “Behavior health (is) rated as highly important for the region, with an emphasis on combatting opioid and substance use.”
In addition, she cited a 2017 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study that reported that 45 percent of those battling addiction have co-occurring mental health disorders, and that only 6.9 percent of those received both mental health and substance abuse treatment.
“With the grace of God and the work of people that are already in place, our overdose deaths have reduced in number,” Shaffer said. “But we’re still not beating the underlying issues.”
The answer, she said is Medically Assisted Treatment, which combines addiction and behavioral health treatment.
“In October,” Shaffer said, “there was only one treatment program that combined the addiction and mental health at the same time in the development of a treatment plan, and that’s the Lawrence County Treatment Court. Not only are there drug and alcohol professionals, but there’s mental health professionals sitting on that team.
“Unfortunately, here in Lawrence County, to get that model, you have to be facing criminal penalties. We want to bring that level of treatment to the general public.”
Shaffer noted that during her time with the court treatment program while in the DA’s office, many parents of children battling addiction came to her, asking if they could get them into the treatment program.
“We had to turn them away. We told them that unless they are charged with some type of criminal offense, we can’t provide these services to you. In denying that to the general public, we are not providing all the services that are available.”
In addition to outpatient addiction and mental health treatment, Shaffer said, DON Recovery eventually aims to get clients into individual rather than group homes, that they may learn responsibility and self-reliance; to provide credit counseling and budgeting guidance; to provide GED courses; and to use a small business incubator that is part of DON’s Central Building plans to accommodate potential plans of program graduates.
“Living drug free is the just the beginning,” Shaffer said,”to living a full and healthy life.”
Phil Bereziak, DON administrator of community resources, noted that in addition to DON Recovery Services, the Central Building already is home to the new DON Management Insurance Services, which provides various types of policies for low-income individuals. In addition, an application process is underway to develop a low-income community credit union. “That would enable us to offer mortgages, loans, lending to lower income individuals who can’t otherwise access traditional lending sources,” he said.
Bereziak noted that DON Services — now housed in the former Thaddeus Stevens School off East Washington Street — started out in the Central Building and through its purchase “will make every attempt to keep another downtown building from going dark … and stays a vibrant part of the downtown district.”