ROGERSVILLE — A Hawkins county woman who described herself as an enabler co-dependent and an overdose widow urged the Hawkins County Commission on Monday to use some of the $11.2 million in federal stimulus funds it will receive this year to invest in addiction recovery programs.
Sue Barkley of Rogersville addressed the commission at the beginning of Monday’s Hawkins County Commission meeting.
She said her husband became hooked on painkillers following a 2009 work injury, and when he could no longer afford his $300 per day pill habit he switched to heroin
They separated when he wouldn’t seek treatment in 2017, and they divorced in December 2019. Two months later, he died of an overdose.
Barkley told the commission on Monday she wants to be a voice for those still struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.
“There is help,” she told commissioners. “Just not much in Hawkins County. We are in an area hardest hit by this drug epidemic, and our loved ones continue to die. Hawkins County is looking at receiving an estimated $11 million from this COVID relief bill.”
Barkley added, “In my very strong opinion, the best thing we can do for our community is to start investing in those stuck in the hell of addiction. I don’t have statistics, but it seems just by looking at Mobile Patrol (local arrest mugshots), the majority of arrests in our community are drug related. Our jail is a revolving door detox facility.”
“Don’t have anywhere to go after rehab is completed”
In 2019 Hawkins County Sessions Judge Todd Ross shared with Hawkins County commissioners his goal of creating a halfway house in the county to help recovering addicts succeed after treatment. Shortly after he was elected in 2012, Ross created Hawkins County Recovery Court, which gives non-violent drug offenders an opportunity to avoid jail by completing a drug rehab program and other stipulations.
Patients spend 9-18 months making productive use of their time in a rehab program rather than wasting it in jail, but the next concern after rehab is if those patients continue to succeed.
Ross, who is unavailable for comment this week, told the commission in 2019 he is saving money with a goal of purchasing a home to be used as a halfway house for Recovery Court clients who don’t have anywhere to go after rehab is completed.
Ross added, “Instead of just releasing them back out onto the streets — having some place looking after them where they can go.”
“I don’t have the manpower or the facility”
Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the Times News on Tuesday that Hawkins County and the region have transitioned from an opioid epidemic to a meth epidemic, and now heroin is coming into area communities as well.
Lawson said the vast majority of crimes are drug and/or alcohol related, and although there are addiction counseling services available inside the jail, there is nothing his department can do for offenders once they are released.
Although he didn’t have statistics available, Lawson said the number of repeat offenders in his jail is staggering.
“Almost all criminal cases we encounter have something to do with alcohol or drugs,” Lawson said. “It causes an increase in thefts and domestic cases, and it seems like the addiction rate has increased tremendously over a short period of time.”
Barkley described the Hawkins County Jail as a “revolving door detox center” — an assessment that Lawson couldn’t dispute.
“We have a large turn-around,” Lawson said. “Most offenders don’t stay long enough to do any good as far as the counseling. We have Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and we have counselors come in. But a lot of the inmates will try to go to rehab instead of going to jail, and a lot of them don’t stay when they get to rehab. Then they’re right back in the community, and right back in the drug circle they’re caught up in.”
Lawson added, “I would like to provide rehab services inside the jail, but I don’t have the manpower or the facility to do that. An outside agency locating in our community to provide those services here in Hawkins County would be very helpful. The saddest part of it all is the demand for it. If there wasn’t such a huge demand for meth we wouldn’t have this problem. ”
“Help create productive members of society”
Barkley told the commission on Monday if an addict is lucky enough to be offered Recovery Court by Judge Ross, they need to take it.
“It’s your best shot at life around here,” Barkley said. “But Judge Ross is one man. We need to build a strong support system in this community. If you start investing and getting people the help they need, the crime rate will start falling. We will help create productive members of society with jobs who give back to the community instead of stealing or dealing drugs to support their drug habits. Parents will get clean, stay clean, and raise their own children instead of the children being raised by other family members or in foster care, taking care of by the state.”
Barkley added, “There’s so much we can do, but we can’t do it without funding or community support. … There’s a growing recovery community here in Rogersville, and I’m very proud to be a part of it. I’ve met some amazing people. They are survivors. Warriors. They are my friends. So please listen to the warriors. Start listening to us. It’s time to stop living in silence and judgment and start saving our people.”