May 24, 2018 at 8:11 am

Alumni News | Phipps Leaves Retirement to Treat Opioid Epidemic in Washington County

Brent Phipps

Brent Phipps

By Brent Phipps ’89M

It was harder to move away from southern Ohio than I imagined.

Eastern North Carolina likes cake. Not much in the way of fruit pies, like apple or blackberry. That seems to be more a western North Carolina item.

I had ridden most of the roads in Eastern North Carolina on my motorcycle, and while it is generally 10 to 15 degrees warmer than southern Ohio, it is still pretty chilly there in the winter, especially this past winter.

I guess I was surprised by how much I missed living in the country and in Washington County. The city of Marietta had changed in a good way the short three years I was gone, such as the renovation of the Colony Theatre and plans to extend the bike path. I had used to like to travel over to Athens for the Athens–Nelsonville bike path.

Over the past several months, the director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board contacted me several times about potentially coming to work for him as his deputy director. I kept up with our local newspaper and had seen the spike in overdoses and resulting deaths in our county.

What is now called the “opioid epidemic” seemed to be hitting our county pretty hard. Our county passed its first behavioral health levy, and the Washington County Behavioral Health Board was able to begin rebuilding programs that it had lost due to lost funding and had begun to implement new ones. With the deputy director position being paid for out of existing administrative funding, the total amount of levy funding could be used to implement these.

Knowing all of this, and having 36 years’ experience in the drug and alcohol treatment field, it was difficult not to be pulled back to try and help out in some way with what was going on in Washington County with the opioid problems, specifically with heroin and fentanyl.

Good Reasons for Leaving Retirement

Since accepting the position, I have assisted the board in providing increased funding to providers providing Medication Assisted Treatment for opioid use, starting programs for family systems therapy in homes, safe visitation sites for those families that are undergoing divorce or separation, improving the ability of relatives to take care of children who may have been removed from their homes due to parental drug addiction, increase treatment in our local jails, and provide trauma based training to school personnel County wide. I am presently working on a Detox Unit, Residential Treatment and Recovery Housing in Washington County.

It seemed like a better use of my time and ability than watching Netflix, napping with the dog, and re-riding roads on the bike I had been on before. Plus of course… there is the apple pie and blackberry pie.

Serving a Larger Purpose

I guess what has surprised me the most is what seems to be the instilled need in us humans to serve a purpose.

When I had decided to retire I had a lot of personal interests and hobbies that I thought would keep me satisfied, and they did for almost five years. But I am again excited about getting up in the morning and working on projects and creating new programs that go beyond my personal interests and serve a larger purpose. It seems it’s something innate perhaps.

So while I may not be doing much to stop or slow down the drug problems we have in southern Ohio I do think I am making a contribution to treating the casualties of it. So in the end I seem to be happier going back to work—which is a selfish reward.

But again, it could just be the pie.

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