Substance Abuse Forum Highlights Community-Based Solutions
By David Hazledine
NORTH WEBSTER — On Thursday, Feb. 24, North Webster Church of God hosted a Kosciusko County Substance Abuse Forum led by Kosciusko County Sheriff Kyle Dukes along with other law enforcement officers, recovery specialists and recovering addicts who highlighted their own struggles as well as the community formed to assist them in their recovery.
Throughout the evening, the speakers emphasized the need for treatment and recovery services to break the cycle of addiction and incarceration, citing the success of Kosciusko County Jail Chemical Addiction Program (JCAP) as a prime example of how community-based services and law enforcement can work together.
“Something special is happening in Kosciusko County,” said Dukes, who described recently meeting with representatives of two local businesses interested in ending policies of not hiring felons. “We’ve got to do it as a team.”
Following Dukes’ introduction, two speakers related their stories of personal recovery.
Travis Henson grew up with a father who was an addict. “I’ve felt the effects of addiction throughout my life,” he said. Following his own introduction to drugs in his teenage years, Henson described how his own addiction “destroyed everything,” including his marriage of 10 years, and “robbed me of my ability to be a father.”
Henson explained how the realization he was continuing the cycle started by his own father came after his most recent arrest, when he said, “Something has to change.”
Henson was also inspired by an older brother who graduated from JCAP, after seeing “the hope he had in his eyes.” He called his decision to read the Bible and apply to enter JCAP as “the best decision I ever made.”
Henson credited JCAP and the community support from Celebrate Recovery and his church family for his nine months of sobriety.
Kacynda Northrup’s story was similar to Henson’s, as she too is the child of addicted parents who started using meth regularly in her teens.
Northrup was handpicked for JCAP “after years of life in institutions,” and has found success with Celebrate Recovery, which she attends weekly.
Like Henson, Northrup stressed the importance of community in her recovery, which has also helped her learn life skills such as paying bills, which, she explained, had “never been my normal.”
Forum attendees then heard from Fort Wayne Police Department Detective Mark Gerardot who, along with his service working undercover, holds a degree in biology from Purdue University.
Gerardot described Fort Wayne as a distribution point for drug cartels moving increasing amounts of the lethal opioid fentanyl from China into the United States. His department, he said, is seeing “dead bodies every day,” resulting from this “pill explosion,” which has largely replaced heroin and is up to 30 times more powerful.
According to Gerardot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported well over 100,000 deaths nationally from overdoses since 2019. First responders, he explained, have developed a kind of gallows humor in response to burnout from so much death.
“But we’re changing that idea,” he said, “Every human being is worth saving.”
He went on to describe his own niece who died as a result of sepsis from dirty needles. “We’re all losing people,” he said.
“The way we are doing business is not solving the problem,” Gerardot stated, referring to “traditionalized” policing, which focuses on arrest and incarceration. “Jail is not helping … we are changing the paradigm of how we view and treat addicts.”
Kosciusko Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Watkins echoed this sentiment later in the program. “We need to invest in people,” he said, as opposed to the “old school way … numbers, putting people in jail.”
JCAP Coordinator Courtney Jenkins represented the “family side” of the problem when she described how her own son’s heroin and meth addiction led to her involvement with JCAP.
In an emotional testimony, Jenkins described how her son’s “bad choices” as a teen combined with trauma from his past to spiral into an “eight-year, horrible roller coaster.” Eventually, she went to the police with information to help arrest her son. Jenkins emphasized how the narcotics detectives “looked at my son as an individual.”
“There’s not a simple answer,” Jenkins stated, “It takes a whole community willing to walk alongside them, but it’s worth the time and effort.”
Following the forum, Jenkins said she has been approached by other departments in and around Indiana interested in adopting JCAP or a similar program.
Other speakers included Jennifer Hope, founder of Mom of an Addict, which provides support for families affected by substance abuse disorder, and Ann Hasse of Fellowship Missions.
Hope explained how Mom of an Addict helps eliminate the “fear of judgment” that often inhibits recovery, and changes the conversation from “confrontation to encouragement.”
The group’s regular Thursday night meetings also provide NARCAN and fentanyl test strips to those concerned about overdose.
“It’s been incredible to watch this community come together,” said Dukes. “We’re doing things that are not the normal way of doing things … that are outside the box. Right here is who is making a difference in Kosciusko County.”
For more information on JCAP on the statewide level, visit www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/office-initiatives-and-outreach.