Opioid grant to empower jailed addicts, provide employment opportunities

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published May 28, 2019


MACOMB COUNTY — A new multimillion-dollar grant is putting an emphasis on the workforce affected by the opioid crisis, and it’s hitting home in a positive way.

On May 13, it was announced that the Michigan Talent Investment Agency, through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, had awarded Macomb/St. Clair Michigan Works! with $1.77 million to provide employment services to eligible individuals affected by the health and economic effects of opioid use, addiction and overdose.

All of the grant money, which was applied for over one year ago, will go to Macomb County in an earmarked two-year period between April 30 and March 31, 2021.

Macomb/St. Clair Michigan Works! Equal Opportunity Officer Patty Madigan said the money will go toward the employment and training of about 230 participants. Approximately $310,000 will be set aside for training purposes. Participants will have the option to either train or gain on-the-job experience, aided by career planners who work with those who are incarcerated.

Barbara Caskey, director of Macomb County Community Corrections, said the focus of this particular program is to address the prison population directly affected by opioid use, because that is what landed many of them behind bars in the first place.

The Macomb County Jail houses up to 1,200 individuals. Caskey said between 85% and 90% of those inmates ended up there due to drug or alcohol use. Data directly related to opioid use was unknown.

Monique Stanton, president and CEO of CARE of Southeastern Michigan, said CARE has been partners with Macomb/St. Clair Michigan Works! for many years, identifying community needs, gaps in the system and ways to improve access. The employment population is underserved, she said, and the capacity to serve all eligible individuals was nonexistent in the past.

Now, this grant will allow for the hiring of five peer recovery coaches — all of whom were in long-term recovery programs themselves.

“We’re helping people through how we’re hiring people,” Stanton said, adding that stable housing and long-term plans for connected treatment limit the already high risk of dying via overdose.

Caskey acknowledged that “fantastic services” already exist, including CARE and Michigan Works!, but this is the first type of grant the state has received since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic as a national public health emergency in October 2017.

“It’s kind of a whole new ballgame,” she said. “It provides us to have them in the community, remain in the community and engage in all those factors. … Even a few hours after being arrested and held (in jail) will be enough to make you consider what is going on. They don’t want to stay in this cycle.”

Stanton mentioned one particular peer recovery coach who tells her story of sitting in a jail cell. It is described as a massive turning point in her life, eventually leading her to CARE and finding a new life purpose by way of helping others.

Sometimes people need to be nudged to find the skills they possess, Stanton continued, and most people want to be employed, work hard and avoid addiction.

“Sometimes there’s an opportunity for people to have a transformational change, but they don’t have access to the support and resources to make that possible,” she said.