Pilot program helps combat opioid epidemic in western Wayne County

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
Growth Works Rescue Recovery Peer Support Services Supervisor Patrick Stropes, himself a recovered addict/alcoholic, gets a hug from Wayne County Health Department Communications Director Lisa Croff after Stropes gave an emotional address, thanking law enforcement and health officials for helping him get clean.

Westland — Patrick Stropes’ road to drug addiction began with his first drink at 13.

“I got the alcohol from home,” said Stropes, 52, of Canton Township.

That led to other drugs and confrontations with law enforcement.

“But as of today, I’ve been sober for 1,700 days, since I assaulted a Canton police officer,” he said.

Dressed in a suit and tie, looking far different from his earlier mug shots, Stropes fought back tears as he participated in a Friday press conference at the Westland City Hall, where a  pilot program was unveiled to help combat the opioid epidemic in western Wayne County. 

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetics such as fentanyl, and legally prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone.

"I went to five treatment centers and was homeless," he said. "I want to thank every single person standing behind me, especially public safety, because I created a lot of chaos for Westland and Canton police."

Helping people like Stropes is the goal of the Wayne County Department of Health, Veterans and Community Wellness  Conference of Western Wayne, Growth Works, St. Mary Mercy Livonia hospital and 18 local public safety agencies. They have formed a unique program where the agencies collaborate.

Officials announced the “Rescue Recovery” pilot program designed to better treat opioid addiction and reduce overdose deaths.

Flanked by first responders and health officials, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans talks about a “Rescue Recovery“ pilot program, created to effectively treat opioid addiction, decrease overdose deaths, and help municipalities battle the opioid epidemic, during a press conference at Westland City Hall Friday.

It is crucial to help addicts, especially after they experience a moment of clarity, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said.

"That is when there must be a mechanism in place to deal with it," he said. "Our job is to help people, and this is a program that requires all of us to make this happen."

Evans was flanked by over 25 people representing first responders, mayors of western Wayne County cities and other political leaders, including State Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia.

"Usually, when you see microphones in front of us, we're talking about Detroit," Evans said. "But we're focused on the 1.7 million people who live in Wayne County, not just Detroit."

The voluntary program, administered by Growth Works, is based on specialized detoxification known as “Rescue Recovery.” When a public safety officer or a St. Mary Mercy Livonia staffer identifies the need, patients are offered peer recovery coaching services who help avoid relapses.

The state’s 2019 fiscal year budget allocated $500,000 to the Conference of Western Wayne to help fund increased specialized detoxification services and $115,000 to Growth Works to help increase the number of peer recovery coaches.

Patients who agree receive services get an assigned peer recovery coach within 90 minutes and can get services for up to one year. The coach puts together what are called specific trauma reducing protocols that develop into a plan after the addict recovers through the detoxification at St. Mary Mercy Behavioral Health.

Services include substance use disorder treatment, medically assisted treatment support and life skills training, academic/employment support, and 12-step support.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly said he knows all too well that the opioid epidemic hits all over.

"There were some people in Dearborn who didn't think drugs were an issue for them," O'Reilly told The Detroit News following the press conference. "This one (opioids) is woefully scary. This is a fight for life and I'm really pleased because I think we can make a difference."

He added, "Our young people have gotten trapped and we've got to free them."

Stropes is grateful for his recovery, but acknowledges that "I am an addict and alcoholic for the rest of my life."