Helping those with substance use issues

Diane Raver | The Herald-TribuneTisha Hicks (left) and Erika Johnson are part of the team that is ready to meet with individuals and families to help them get connected with long-term recovery services to achieve success.

Persons who have substance abuse issues often don't know where to turn for support. Thanks to a national grant channeled down through the Department of Mental Health and Addictions and Recovery Works and Cures, more local help is now available.

The Choices Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a group of specialists who are available 24/7 to respond to individuals and families experiencing challenges with opioid overdoses, substance use and mental health crises. Its goal is to increase the number of opioid survivors and partner with local communities to build a network of supports, reveals clinical director Erika Johnson.

"Our team consists of emergency response clinicians, recovery support specialists, a registered nurse and clinical director, all specifically trained to support individuals and families experiencing substance use and mental health challenges. We not only respond during a time of crisis to stabilize the situation, we also ensure individuals are connected with long-term recovery services to achieve success." Law enforcement may also be part of the group that goes to homes.

In addition to Johnson, current team members include registered nurse Jeanne Akeman; licensed clinicians Dustin Schwyn, Megan Huffmeyer and Stephanie Hartman; and recovery support specialists Tisha Hicks, Amanda Sampson and Jenilee Collins.

The recovery support specialists "are in their own recovery. I've been in my recovery for 23 years," Johnson reports. "We see the power in having persons who have been through that, having recovering people helping recovering people.

"We serve seven counties," Franklin, Ripley, Decatur, Dearborn, Ohio, Switzerland and Jefferson. "Our home office will be in Batesville in the Batesville Area Resource Center, but our offices will be our cars."

"We will be covering a lot of ground, and as soon as we get the referrals, we'll put the team to work .... Anyone can made a referral, including law enforcement if they have an overdose, substance abuse concern or mental health issue .... If the family doesn't want services, we can provide them with information and provide them with resources.

"We hope to provide an initial assessment within 48 hours if someone gives us a referral .... (in emergency situations), we can respond within an hour and a half."

The Hamburg resident continued, "We will develop a plan of care and decide who's going to do what. They may need help with housing or transportation. We may help them get to Celebrate Recovery. Tisha (or one of the other recovery support specialists) will have the ability to go with them there .... If there's a medical issue, the nurse will address it.

"We can take them to the doctor or grocery store and help them get on their feet," Hicks says.

"And talk to them about how to do these things for themselves," Johnson adds.

"We will be able to follow that individual or family for up to 60 days. After 30 days, we'll have a team meeting, where we'll review successes and strengths. We will do another meeting upon closure of services." The services provided by CERT are free.

The recovery support specialist announces, "For myself, I've seen a lot of success with people if I stay in contact with them even after the 60 days and tell them, 'If you want to reach out to me, if you need to cry or if you're struggling, call me.'"

On March 25, Hicks will celebrate three years in recovery. "I struggled (with an addiction), so I want to help people and tell them, 'Look where I'm at, and you can be there, too.'

"I'm super grateful for this opportunity," emphasizes the Indianapolis resident. "As soon as I got out of jail and was in full recovery, I felt embarrassed and devastated because I thought I wouldn't ever have a professional job .... This position was the confidence builder I needed."

Johnson emphasizes, "It takes a village, a community, to solve these issues .... We're really excited to get it (CERT) going. In reality, we're going to have some hard times and some disasters, but we're going to have successes, too, and will learn from all of these.

"The program is very adaptable to each situation. It's individualized because there is not one answer that works for every single person .... We're going to give them choices and then it's on them. It will have to ultimately be their choice" to make a change.

Diane Raver can be contacted at or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.

More info

• CERT will hold an open house to kick off its new program Friday, March 30, from noon-2 p.m. at the BARC building, 920 County Line Road, Suite C. Guests will have the opportunity to meet team members, learn how to make referrals and ask questions about the crises and substance use services provided.

• The team is still looking for three recovery support specialists. For more information, persons can contact Erika Johnson at 317-601-8886 or

• To make referrals to CERT, persons can call 317-205-8302.