Woman’s club to meet Monday at YWCA

November meeting includes $1,000 donation and presentation on drug addiction

MEETING HIGHLIGHTS — Iris Craig, president of the OFWC Woman’s Club of Steubenville, welcomed Life Walk of Wintersville representatives Michael Thomas, left, office manager and counselor, and Gene Walker, counselor, who discussed at the club’s November meeting their roles in helping clients deal with opiate addiction. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — The OFWC Woman’s Club of Steubenville will wrap up its 2017 meeting before a January and February hiatus with a noon luncheon and business meeting Monday at the YWCA of Steubenville.

The program will feature a performance by Steubenville High School choir members under the direction of Scott Wolodkin, and also, according to the club booklet, will include the Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of Urban Mission Ministries, as program speaker.

After Monday’s gathering, club members won’t meet again until March 5 when Therese Nelson will be the program presenter. Her topic will be “The Eggs.” April brought the Eggsibition, the latest effort by the Nelson family to bring visitors to downtown businesses to see 17 3-foot eggs that were created and on display through Mother’s Day at various downtown locations.

Nelson will discuss the status of the undertaking.

The club’s November luncheon and business meeting, meanwhile, involved two elements, including the presentation of a $1,000 check to the Steubenville Recreation Department, which was accepted by Lori Fetherolf, city recreation director. The money will be used to purchase games such as air hockey and an Xbox 360 for patrons of the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center to enjoy.

Program presenters were two representatives of Life Walk headquartered in Cincinnati but having a Wintersville presence since its office opening in March. Addressing the club were local residents Michael Thomas, office manager involved in case management and counseling, and Gene Walker, counselor.

The mission of Life Walk, according to its website, is “to help everyone dealing with opiate addiction find a true path to recovery. Our path includes both medical support and counseling. We look to treat both the physical and psychological roots of substance abuse with compassion and dignity.”

“We’ve had 25 deaths since January of this year — that’s not good — and you say to yourself are you doing enough as treatment providers, are we collectively getting the information we need, the evidence-based practices that we need to continue? Well, yeah, I think we are doing a good job. We can do better, and better for me is a residential type facility,” Thomas said.

“That’s a must. You have to have all the pieces of the puzzle in order for the addict to successfully recover,” Thomas told the woman’s club members, noting outpatient services can’t be expected “to solve all the problems. However, I am grateful we do have outpatient clinics and drug and alcohol treatment facilities around.”

Evaluating an addict is what Thomas said he does on a day-to-day basis. “They’re crying out for help. They’re sick. Our job is to get them better, and by getting them better a lot of times during the assessment we can determine whether maybe detox is appropriate at that time or medication. We are a maintenance assistant treatment program,” he said, noting that can involve Suboxone or Subutex, which helps the heroin addict, for example, from being sick.

An addict, he said, can be “very truly smart, manipulative and every other thing you can imagine,” and some addicts, Thomas pointed out, “will become our loved ones, the people we know the best.”

Thomas said family members may often pose the question of what to do or how to help an addict.

“Well, sometimes helping is not enabling the sickness and what I mean is giving money,” he said, noting it’s OK to say “no” and not do that. “A lot of times people are afraid to say ‘No’ and ‘My child will die if I don’t.’ Not necessarily. Believe it or not, they’re very resilient, they will make their way,” Thomas explained.

“What I am grateful for the most part is that I have the blessing to be able to work in this field from my own experiences as well. I had a son that had suffered from that disease of addiction as well as mental illness,” he said, noting his 17-year-old son was murdered three years ago and that drugs “played a part of that.”

“As devastated as I was, and as I still am at times, especially around the holidays because his birthday is in December, it kind of makes me yearn to do more,” Thomas said, “so my thing is early intervention and early detection. We as a society have to learn to stop looking at that disease of addiction as so disgusting with that person because behind that disease is a real person and I think so often people are judged because of the sickness that they carry.

“I truly, truly didn’t want to come out of my mom’s womb and say, ‘I want to be an addict when I get older, I want to use drugs and be a successful addict.’ Never in my life did I do that,” Thomas said. “A lot of times people use for different reasons — pain, trauma from the past, abuse, all types of things, but the thing keynote for me is that we do recover. It can and will get better, and I would like to continue to open up that dialogue with our city leaders, our community and see if we can work together to work on this epidemic because it is truly bad,” he said.

Creating awareness is important, according to Thomas.

“The disease of addiction is a disease,” he said. “I think people think they (addicts) had a choice, they didn’t have to pick it up. Well, they may have had a choice in the beginning when they started but they no longer have a choice in the end. What I am saying is once you are addicted to anything, drugs, marijuana, opiates, heroin, once you pick it up, and it manifests inside you, you’re off to the races. You really are,” Thomas explained.

“What I do know is that another addict does not have to die today. There are so many resources, and we’re working to get more,” he said, advocating the need for a local residential type treatment facility. “I send people out of Jefferson County daily. I am trying to save lives as much as I can, and I am sending them away in hopes we can help them recover and get a foundation to stand on, so we have to do something,” Thomas said, noting people may try to minimize the drug problem. “We may think not my family or my neighborhood, well it’s in everybody’s neighborhood or it soon will be, so we have to be mindful of that.”

Thomas said he works with a variety of community resources. “There are times we have people coming through our doors who have been homeless and addicted so my job is not only to treat the disease, but also to treat that person with a doctor they may need, a dentist, food, shelter, I do all that because an addict is not going to stay clean if he has no housing. How can you treat them and then they are sleeping on the streets? I work my butt off to make sure that doesn’t happen. We use local shelters or get funding through outreach sources to help with that cost,” he added.

Walker offered a definition of drug addiction.

“It is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences,” Walker said. “The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. Drug addiction also is a relapsing disease, the return to drug use after an attempt to stop,” he added.

“My biggest thing is I do this (counseling) because it’s a needed change,” Walker said. “I myself suffer from the disease of addiction. Now I say I suffer from the disease of addiction, not merely addicted to drugs. Everyone who we perceive to be a drug addict does not suffer from the disease of addiction. Some of us can put it down and walk away. Others we cannot. This is a disease that has to do with our behavior, that has to do with our thought pattern, our cognitive thinking,” he explained.

Walker said he has “been clean” for four years but it took him 25 years to get to those four years.

“I stay rooted in my recovery,” he said, emphasizing the need to look at the person behind the addict.

“What do we do now, how do we make them productive citizens? We start to teach them so they can learn,” he said. “When I got clean and got my own apartment, I had to call someone else — how do you get your electric turned on. I had no idea,” Walker said. “Treatment flows farther than what we can give you in the confines of a building. We have to teach you how to live and become a productive citizen — that is what recovery is about. When we talk about recovering addict, we’re talking about changing one thing — everything,” Walker said.