Frederik Heller is Director of Library Operations and Information Strategy at the National Association of REALTORS®. He can be reached at email@example.com or 312-329-8361.
A Reckoning With Opioids
REALTOR® Paul Wyman rallied his community to help addicts and their families overcome barriers to recovery.
August 28, 2019
Like countless communities across the United States, Howard County, Ind., has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. “A local doctor’s office that had been overprescribing opiates was shut down in 2013,” recalls Paul Wyman, managing broker of The Wyman Group in Kokomo, Ind. “But then a lot of the people who were addicted to the opioid pills turned to drugs like heroin to get their fix. At the same time, drug dealers introduced things like fentanyl into the heroin to make it much more potent. That was catching a lot of users off-guard and putting them into overdose situations.”
Such afflictions can affect every member of an addict’s family. “Children weren’t being taken care of. Grandparents and parents weren’t taking care of themselves,” says Sherry Rahl, who ran a health care nonprofit in Kokomo at the time. “You knew when you drove down the street that addiction was becoming a very common occurrence.”
Howard County experienced 24 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the county coroner’s office. Then, in 2017, the number spiked to a record high of 44.
Listen to a radio interview with Paul Wyman
‘Help Me Navigate This World’
That’s when Wyman decided to call a summit to bring the community together and determine how to fight back. In September 2017, about 100 community leaders—heads of corporations and nonprofits, small-business owners, educators, law enforcement officers, and health care officials—gathered at the campus of Indiana University-Kokomo to discuss the issue. The group found that although Howard County had numerous resources to assist those affected by opioid addiction, people simply didn’t know where to turn for help. “Or if they did attempt to get help, they were met with such overwhelming barriers that they just gave up,” says Wyman. “There were a lot of organizations in the community doing great things independently, but there was no unified effort.”
Sue Sciame-Giesecke, chancellor of Indiana University-Kokomo, who took part in the summit, says there needed to be a simpler process for addicts to get help. “We needed one central place where a family member could just call or walk in the door and say, ‘Hey, this is my situation. Help me navigate this world,’” she says. “And so that’s what we did. We created Turning Point.”
Addressing Immediate Needs
Wyman led the effort to get Turning Point into operation as quickly as possible, raising $100,000 in a little over a month. Eight months after the initial summit, Turning Point Systems of Care was ready to launch. “When we opened the doors, the phones were not even connected and there literally was a line of people waiting to get in,” recalls Rahl, who became Turning Point’s first paid, full-time employee. “When we did plug in the phones, they didn’t stop ringing.”
When a family member or individual comes into Turning Point, Wyman explains, “we immediately begin to love on them and show them that there is hope, and we start connecting them to the services that they need.”
Those services might include detoxification, inpatient care, therapy, or help finding jobs and housing. The nonprofit hosts support groups and provides mentors for recovering addicts. A new initiative called Pick Yourself Up supports those who are returning from long-term treatment or incarceration as they transition back into the community.
Although it’s less than two years old, Turning Point is regularly cited by the Indiana governor’s office as a model for other communities. Last year, Howard County saw a 25% reduction in the number of overdose deaths compared to 2017. “Certainly a part of that can be attributed to the efforts of Turning Point,” says Jim McClelland, the state’s executive director for drug prevention, treatment, and enforcement. “They’ve called attention to the problem and they’ve got people from all sectors working on it. People now know who to call. They’re making an enormous difference.”
"Since we’re out selling our community every day, we ought to be out every day making our community a better place.”—Paul Wyman
Even with greater awareness about the problem—and options for help— permanent change comes slowly. In the first half of this year, 19 people died of overdoses, four more than the county had during the same period in 2018. “Recovery is ongoing; it’s not a one-time thing, it’s not something that just happens overnight. It takes a long time,” says Wyman. “We want to be there for the long haul with these members of our community.”
Solutions for a Heavy Workload
As board chair, Wyman coordinates the work of more than 100 volunteers serving on five committees. He also manages the staff and finances. Often, Wyman can be found alongside Turning Point’s staff talking with incoming clients. Turning Point currently has three full-time employees, including Rahl, and is hiring a fourth. “There were times I would call Paul and say, ‘This is overwhelming, and there’s more need than I’m able to give,’” she says. “Suicide issues were coming in my door at a rate of five people a day. Paul would set aside his work, and he’d come in and hear their stories, and then together, we’d get the resources necessary to help these people.
“He leads the charge” to overcome barriers that Turning Point encounters in assisting clients, Rahl says. “He figures out who owns the problem, what are the barriers, how are we going to fix that. And all I have to do is say, ‘Here’s the problem that I’m having with XYZ,’ and he finds the solution.”
The Power of Community
For Wyman, Howard County and its people are central to everything that he does. In addition to the demands of running a real estate business, Wyman is a Howard County commissioner, sits on the boards of several nonprofits, coordinates an annual festival, and hosts a yearly student leadership conference.
“Community is everything to REALTORS®,” he says. “When there are great things happening and exciting developments, we should be the frontline champions for what makes our communities vibrant. But at the same time, when problems arise, we should also be on the front lines, rising to meet those challenges.”
What’s key to Turning Point’s success is Wyman’s innate ability to relate to people at all levels—from CEOs to convicted felons—and help them envision what is possible in their lives. “When you’re out and engaged and involved in the community, you meet a tremendous number of people,” he explains. “And I’ve discovered that immediate trust and rapport is built when people are passionate and collaborating on a common cause. We’re constantly encouraging each other, and we’ve been able to have great success with it.”