Former Oxford drug rehab residents concerned over push to close facility
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Dec 05, 2013 | 8910 views |  0 comments | 107 107 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Terri Baker, Pam Martin, Beckie Crumley and Kendra Homesley, former residents of rehab facility Oxford Outreach, hold testimonial letters from others who have also found help there. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Terri Baker, Pam Martin, Beckie Crumley and Kendra Homesley, former residents of rehab facility Oxford Outreach, hold testimonial letters from others who have also found help there. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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Terri Baker once worked as an assistant for a Talladega County judge, but her addiction to prescription pain medication led to her 2007 arrest. She found herself back in her old courtroom facing charges of forging prescriptions.

Baker spent two months in prison before being referred to Oxford Outreach in 2007, and said the six months of structured living at the nonprofit treatment facility gave her a new life.

Baker is now worried that Oxford’s push to close all drug rehabilitation facilities operating in the city will hurt people who need help overcoming their addictions, but local officials say the facilities are unregulated and unsafe.

The Oxford City Council last month hired an attorney to take legal action against the city’s 11 residential drug rehab facilities, which council members said are operating as boarding houses in violation of zoning ordinances.

Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said while some local drug rehabs do a good job, the faith-based nonprofits are not regulated. State law allows such programs to operate without need of certification by the Department of Mental Health.

“The city doesn’t regulate them. The state doesn’t regulate them. They just do what they want to do,” Partridge said.

Most drug program residents are sent there by courts while on probation. Until such facilities are regulated, they pose a risk to the public, Partridge explained.

Oxford police shot and killed a former Tri-County Outreach patient Jan. 18 after he threatened officers with a knife.

Partridge said he believes that if a person is arrested for a crime and requires treatment for addiction, such treatment should be done in jail, “where there are regulations. Where it’s controlled and you can’t walk away and commit further crimes.”

“I am totally for rehab, but it has to be in a regulated means,” Partridge said. “You just can’t have criminals out-gated to these houses in neighborhoods that are zoned R-1 residential.”

A bill introduced by state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, last year would have required drug programs be approved by the municipalities in which they operate. The bill passed the Senate but not the House.

Marsh said by phone Wednesday he will reintroduce the bill next year.

“It seemed to have good support by law enforcement in general, so it’s my intention to get it introduced early,” Marsh said.

Another problem with residential drug programs is that many residents simply walk away from the facilities, which can add to their legal problems, said Matthew Wade, chief deputy for the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office.

Wade also worries that rehab facilities that also operate businesses such as thrift stores, staffed with residents who must pay the facility back for their treatment, introduces an unnecessary element of profit.

Not all cut from the same cloth

Several former residents of Oxford Outreach spoke to The Star about their time in treatment, describing a structured environment different than the types of facilities described by Partridge and Wade.

Oxford Outreach requires the all-female residents in the nonprofit’s two homes to work, but does not operate a business that employs them, said Kendra Homesley, 29, of Eastaboga.

Homesley was referred to Oxford Outreach by her lawyer in 2009 after being arrested on drug charges. She spent 14 months there and said the experience changed her life.

“They taught me everything that I do today that I couldn’t do before. How to pay bills. How to go to work on time and work all day. How to clean house. It’s really a supportive living facility,” Homesley said.

Former Oxford Outreach resident Terri Baker’s husband, Mike, said he watched his wife transform her life because of Oxford Outreach.

“When she left we had a 10-year-old son. When she came back she was a mother again,” Baker said.

Sandra Hester, director of Oxford Outreach, said while she would like to comment, the program’s attorney, Joel Laird, recommended she refer questions to him. Attempts to reach Laird this week for comment were unsuccessful.

Tony Hamm, director of Tri-County Outreach, which operates several drug programs in Oxford, referred questions to Laird, who also represents that facility.

Attempts this week to contact the owner of Real Life Recovery, another Oxford rehab, for comment this week were unsuccessful.

Limited options

Another local drug rehab program, operated by the Sheriff’s Office and located at the county jail, is currently taking referrals from judges, but has a limited capacity and largely treats people already serving jail time.

Wade said the inmate substance abuse program uses curriculum provided by the National Institute of Corrections, and is taught by a licensed counselor.

The 20-week classes teach inmates decision-making skills, how to avoid tempting situations and make better life choices, Wade said.

The program was operated in the Ayers Building on West 10th Street, but the county sold that building in September for $1.1 million to Tri-County Outreach. Wade’s program moved to the county jail at that time. The County Commission paid $130,000 this year to operate the program.

Wade said that without the Ayers Building to pay for, the per-person cost of his program dropped from $2,500 to $650. Not all participants pay for their class in full through required regular payments, and some are declared indigent by judges and pay nothing, he said.

Wade said the program currently has no waiting list, but can only serve about 60 people at a time. All of the participants in the program are currently inmates in the county jail.

“We used to do some outpatient stuff, and if a judge wanted us to do outpatient we could still do that,” Wade said. “Our purpose is to try to help these people so they don’t come back to jail, so they become productive citizens in the community.”

Wade said the need for drug rehab facilities is there, but there is little support from the state government to pay for such facilities.

Wade said some state legislators might say that drug abuse is “your relative’s problem. If you’ve got a relative on drugs, you should do something about it.”

“I’m not at all against that,” Wade said. “But it’s easy to say ‘I hope they’ve got some family.’ When it’s your child, things are different.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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