By Nicole Hennessy

Avon/Avon Lake

The LCADA Way’s Avon Lake Wellness Center opened its doors in 2014, providing alcohol and drug treatment, as well as mental health services and outreach, to residents throughout Lorain County.

Recently rebranded, The LCADA Way (formerly known as Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Inc.) will also expand to additional counties, including Medina.

As an alternate take on its acronym, a press release explained that the organization “is centered around Leadership, Compassion, Awareness, Dedication and Advocacy.”

With these values in mind, LCADA works to provide life coaching sessions to students in both Avon Lake and Avon schools, in addition to other outreach initiatives.

Thomas Stuber, president and CEO of The LCADA Way, sat down to talk about the rebranding, and some of the issues faced by Avon and Avon Lake when it comes to matters of mental health and addiction.

Q: What went into the decision to rebrand?

A: The rebranding came about based on the fact that we have been invited to other counties to bring our services. We’ve been doing things The LCADA Way for some time. All behavioral health organizations do similar things. They all provide therapy, they do individual counseling, they do family therapy (and) intensive outpatient. We see ourselves as different in terms of how we deliver those services … We’re no longer Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, but we are still LCADA.

Q: Expanding seems like it could be a double-edged sword: in a way; more people are getting help, but does this represent an increasing issue, more so than what we’ve already seen in the past few years?

A: The larger problem began emerging back in 2010. We started seeing a large spike in the opiate addiction, starting with (pharmaceuticals) and then moving to the heroin addiction, and that remains at an epidemic level within the community. For us, it’s our mission and vision to treat those who are affected by addiction and behavioral health problems. It’s also our mission and vision to provide community-based and school-based prevention services. We have to get to these young people before they make this life-changing decision in using drugs, especially if they’re being lured by opiates.

Q: You mentioned working with the schools; did you guys do any consulting when Avon High School decided to implement random drug testing?

A: We actually contract with Avon and Avon Lake. In addition to running the life skills programming in the schools, we also have a counselor for a half-day a week, to provide consultation to faculty or … parents who are concerned, and also for the students who want to seek us out. It’s been a very effective model.

Q: Do you know about how many students in both districts utilize those programs?

A: We tabulate our numbers based on countywide, and I know that we had 3,500 students who received the life skills curriculum last year.

Q: How do you think it can be beneficial to students to have access to the life skills program?

A: Again, we’ve been able to get in front of 3,500 (students) on pretty much an annual basis the last several years. We do a pre- and post-test evaluation on all of those students, and what we found is that 92 percent of those students that go through report abstinence from all mood-altering chemicals and tobacco in the last 30 days of the program. Knowing that 28 percent of high school students are using on a regular basis − either alcohol, drugs or tobacco − I think that’s a pretty good success rate. And if we can give them some opportunity to delay use, in the future, the better chance they have. Young people, if they begin using prior to the age of 18, are six times more likely to become addicted as adults than those who delay their initial use until after the age of 21.

Q: What do you think are some of the unique challenges that are present in Avon and Avon Lake?

A: I’m not sure I would identify anything as a unique challenge. I think that drug abuse is the great equalizer. And oftentimes in communities of affluence, like Avon and Avon Lake, they’re able to miss some of the consequences of life in some of the more rural or poor communities. But again, drugs are the great equalizer, and they’e facing the exact same challenge that every community in the state is, in terms of the opiate addiction.

Q: When you see a pretty well-behaved student who gets good grades and does some light partying on the weekend, and everyone thinks that’s OK, what are we really dealing with there when we look the other way?

A: The problem is that progression can occur so quickly with a young person. You’ve got wonderful children out there who are doing wonderful things that are all of a sudden overdosing and everybody is surprised; or committing suicide and everybody is surprised, because they didn’t see it coming … I know there’s a lot of discussion about the testing issues. Schools aren’t just a place for young people to learn information, gain knowledge about math, English and the foreign languages and the rest. It’s really an environment where they learn how to deal with the world. And some of those things are being lost, I think, through nobody’s fault, because I think people are having to fall back on just the basics. We need to get drug education in the schools; we need to get mental health education and support in the schools; we need to support the teachers in being able to have better interaction and more time to have contact with the students (rather than) just passing information. The schools in Lorain County have been wonderful. They’ve worked very hard. I know funding has been an issue, but I know some of this testing has been interfering. I really hope they get that figured out.

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