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HUD Secretary stops in Cedar Rapids, discusses local substance abuse concerns

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spoke with Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart and health professionals on Thursday about substance abuse issues in the area.

Cities and states across the United States are looking for ways to end substance abuse and Cedar Rapids is just one of those cities looking to be apart of that end. Earlier today, United States Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson met with local leaders in Cedar Rapids.

"It's going to require all of us to do this,” said United States Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday.

Late Thursday morning, Secretary Carson spoke with Mayor Brad Hart, medical professionals, and others about substance abuse issues in the area. Jeff Johnston is just one a few who shared his personal story about his son’s struggle.

"From 16 to 23, he battled addiction. This wasn't something that just happened on the weekend. This was a long process for him,” said Jeff Johnston.

In October of 2016, Johnston lost his oldest son Seth to heroin abuse. He says his family did grieve, but he knew he had a role in something bigger.

"I hope that each time I spoke with my son Ian, that we impacted at least one kid,” said Johnston.

Jeff Johnston speaks to teens in the Corridor. He hopes by sharing his story, he can encourage other teens not to go down the same path Seth did.

On Thursday, he was one of the few who voiced their concerns and thoughts about substance abuse in Cedar Rapids. One of the concerns raised by a few members of the group: the Medicaid policy shortening the stays of treatment programs for those in need.

"They can't afford to receive the programs and services once their insurance or Medicaid stops paying for those programs,” said Melissa Walker, the Area Substance Abuse Council’s (ASAC) Deputy Director.

ASAC offers a number of services for anyone battling substance abuse. They hosted Thursday’s event.

Another concern raised by the group is the need for resources from the state and federal governments and the need for public-private partnerships.

Secretary Carson says those public-private partnerships that the City and ASAC are already working toward establishing is one of the most important steps in the fight against substance abuse. He commended the group for their different contributions in helping those with substance abuse in the area.

In addition to an open discussion about concerns, everyone at the table offered solutions to defeating the substance abuse issue across the nation.

"I hope you’ll think about Cedar Rapids,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart to Secretary Carson about possibly bringing a pilot program fighting substance abuse to the city.

While there is no word on a pilot program in the works, it’s something Jeff Johnston could assist with.

“Heroin picked the wrong person to take their child,” said Johnston.

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