A lifeline for those battling addictions
Collin County Substance Abuse Program
By Sonia Duggan
Nationwide drug abuse poses major challenges for addicts and their families and friends. For those in Collin County battling addictions, the Collin County Substance Abuse Program provides a wealth of information and referrals.
The county-wide program was established in the 1990 after a 15-person task force was summoned to collect data and present their findings to county commissioners in Spring 1988. The first year the program was open, 58 residents were served. Today, the programs serves an average 2,500 residents annually.
CCSAP provides evaluations to adults and children with substance abuse and helps find the appropriate fit for treatment. They are proactive in Collin County providing the public information about emerging drug trends
and reaching out to school districts by offering student and faculty presentations. In addition, adolescents receiving supervision by Collin County Juvenile Probation Department are provided Substance Abuse Education Classes through their office.
In July, John-Mark Meulman, a chemical dependency counselor with a master’s degree in professional counseling took over the office as program administrator. In recovery himself now for over 10 years, Meulman talks about his own recovery with patients as a way to de-stigmatize addiction.
He is passionate about what he does, having left a lucrative career as a National Sales Manager to help others.
“I was so burned out. My work was just not meaningful to me,” he said. In addition to counseling and administering the program, Meulman serves on the Adult Fatality Review Board for Collin County and the County Substance Abuse Coalition.
“Suicide is the number one cause of untreated mental illness in Collin County,” he said.
Aside from Meulman, Misty Harris is a licensed chemical dependency counselor on staff and the new program coordinator. Harris, also in recovery, has worked at several facilities over the years including Nexxus Recovery.
For individuals struggling with addiction and at loss for the next step to take, the program offers Collin County residents substance abuse evaluations at a nominal fee – $40 – for adults who are seeking treatment.
The evaluations consist of a 1 ½ hour screening using audit questionnaires and one-on-one time with a counselor to ultimately determine if they meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder.
“Since we do not rely on profit from treatment centers, we can recommend whichever treatment facility is appropriate for the resident seeking treatment,” Meulman said.
If a person does meet the criteria, then the next step for the office would be to determine which program works best for them including evaluating insurance and payment needs.
In 2017 to date, the facility has provided over a thousand adult assessments and 170 adolescent assessments.
On the adolescent level, substance abuse evaluations are completely free. While they don’t do any treatment at the facility, Muelman said his goal for them is to have a positive experience with a counselor.
For teens, he said, it is just as important to educate the families and evaluate what is going on in their lives that make them try to self-medicate.
“Substance abuse is just a way to feel better,” Meulman said. “We try to determine what the underlying cause is.”
First, a counselor will talk to parents and have them answer a series of questions before bringing the adolescent in to find out what’s going on at home or at school.
“We’re only as good as the information we’re given,” he said. “As therapists, we try to connect the dots.” With that information they are able to make recommendations and help parents determine the best course of action.
For teen addicts, finding a treatment facility is a bigger challenge since there are fewer facilities that accept adolescents. Nonetheless, they make every attempt to find a fit for the individual and provide referrals.
The CCSAP website, collincountytx.gov/substanceabuse, offers information on drug trends, statistics and resources. Some drug trend information, while helpful, can be considered particularly alarming.
Marijuana use is cited as being an epidemic among adolescents in Collin County. The use of THC, also known as “Dabs” is gaining popularity as well, and one of the most alarming statistics is the widespread use of heroin in adults and in North Texas schools.
“There has been a 200 percent increase nationwide in the number of opioid overdoses from 2000-’14 and we expect these to rise even more as 2015 and 2016 are factored in,” Meulman said.
Several new and deadly synthetic opioids have emerged which are increasing fatalities due to their strength. U47700, also called “pink” due to its color, is a synthetic opioid manufactured in China. Furanylfentanyl is an opioid analgesic which is also manufactured in China.
According to Meulman, there have been overdose deaths from both of these drugs in Collin County over the past two years.
Carfentanil is an opioid used to tranquilize elephants which has caused overdoses in Ohio and other northern states. Also a new drug called “grey death” is causing deaths in the Midwest and now Florida.
“This is a combination of Heroin, fentanyl and U47700, any one of which can be lethal,” he said. “Put them together and you are basically committing suicide.”
“One cannot take a passive approach to drug and alcohol use especially among adolescents. The earlier adolescent substance use is identified and addressed the higher the probability of deterring this adolescent in continuing use into adulthood,” CCSAP states.
Educating parents, teachers
Another arm of the Collin County Substance Abuse program is education and prevention.
One of the goals of the CCSAP is to educate teachers and community members about what popular drugs are being seen in the area and other parts of the country and how to look for signs of abuse. All presentations are offered free of charge.
Meulman hopes that in the future, schools and counselors will reach out to them more for help, especially since they are often overwhelmed.
For instance, Plano ISD has five substance abuse counselors and 66 campuses, making each counselor responsible for 13 schools – a very large number of students.
Slowly they are making inroads in some districts.
Recently Meulman spoke to teachers in Farmersville ISD at one of their two in-service days and he said he reached out to counselors at Blue Ridge to let them know who they are.
“McKinney and Plano are pretty open,” he said. “We are making headway in Frisco as well.” At times he said he feels underutilized. “We eventually will have to deal with the consequences of their addiction.”
He particularly loves talking to middle school age children because by eighth grade, less than 10 percent of students have tried drugs. Unfortunately, by 12th grade, the percentage of users rises to 25 percent.
Last year Meulman spoke to sixth grade students during Red Ribbon Week at Rice Middle School in Plano. He brought, and rode, his unicycle and reached kids through that activity, talking to the kids about drugs and the fact that if you take drugs, you can’t do something as cool as ride a unicycle.
“We tailor our presentations,” he said. “There is no limit as far as that goes.”
Another challenge for Meulman and his team is that there is a still a huge stigma associated with substance abuse.
“There are communities and schools that think if they ignore it, then it will simply go away. It’s everywhere,” he said. “As long as we are having drug toxicity deaths, our job is not done. We’re a government agency. Our mission is to protect and promote the health of Collin County residents.”
Wyndi Veigel also contributed to this article.