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Stronger than my addiction: $15-million facility in Indianapolis helped woman rebuild her life

The Assessment Intervention Center offers help for folks who are battling homelessness, addiction and mental health problems.
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Posted at 5:01 PM, Jan 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-10 19:44:45-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Marquitta Hearne looked in the mirror and was disturbed by the face she saw staring back at her.

"I was in a hotel room and I didn't recognize the person," Hearne said. "It was so gloomy and dark. I was in a dark place."

Hearne was exhuasted. She said she'd been chasing a cocaine high for years, using more and more of the drug as her addiction deepened. If she couldn't stop, Hearne was certain she'd end up behind bars, or in a morgue.

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Marquitta Hearne.

"I was doing so much, so much," Hearne said. "And like, one wrong turn could have just ended my life or ended (with) me in jail."

Hearne took the first steps to recovery that night, walking more than three miles from where she was staying to the Assessment Intervention Center, 2979 E. Pleasant Run Parkway North Dr.

This resource center offers help for folks like Hearne, who are battling homelessness, addiction and mental health problems.

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The Assessment Intervention Center.

"They got me the resources that I needed," Hearne said. "And I went to a sober living place and I stayed there almost a year. Then, I reconciled with my family, who is helping me get myself together now."

The $15 million AIC opened in December 2020 on the Community Justice Campus as a "first-of-its kind" facility that links people in crisis with the services that can help.

Mayor Joe Hogsett touted the center as a cornerstone of his plan to fight crime by offering alternatives to jail.

“The opening of the AIC represents several years of work reflecting a transformation in thinking about our criminal justice system," Hogsett said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 1, 2020.

"Our goal is to address rising mental health and addiction needs, and break the cycle of low-level, non-violent offenders trapped in the system largely due to complex social, economic, and health challenges."

A 2010 study by Indiana University found that about 1.2 million Hoosiers suffer from mental health disorders, including more than 165,000 in Marion County.

A 2015 report by the the Indianapolis Criminal Justice Reform Task Force found that about one out of three Marion County inmates suffer from a mental health disorder.

Studies show that treating a person's mental health and addiction is cheaper and more effective than incarceration.

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Sign posted in a hallway displaying art projects at the Assessment Intervention Center.

Clients entering the AIC are often high when they come through the door. Many are homeless, broke and separated from family and friends.

At the AIC, they get a general health checkup, shower, clean clothes, food and a place to sober up.

"What we are is a linkage hub," said James Richter, Director of Clinical Services at the Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center.

The center is not a jail, hospital or a clinic, Richter said. There are nurses here, but no doctors or therapists.

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James Richter

"Even though we've been open for three years, I think there are there still either misconceptions as to what the AIC is, what we do there," Richter said. "Someone can come to and try to figure out what the next step is, then we work with all our partners to get them to the next step. But we don't actually provide that treatment itself."

When the high has worn off, clients meet with staff and peer coaches to figure out what help they need. In a day or two, they move to another treatment program.

There are 60 beds in the AIC, where people stay until room opens up in another program.

"We can help you with withdrawal protocols, to safely withdrawal from alcohol or opioids," Richter said. "Our resource coordinators and peer recovery coaches on site would work with you trying to connect you either to the outpatient provider or substance use provider that would be the person most appropriate for your need."

The AIC reports that it made 3,091 referrals to other programs last year, which is up 27% from 2021 and up 20% over 2022.

About a third of the people who end up at the AIC walk in on their own, Richter said. Others come from the the courts, police and hospital emergency rooms.

Superior Court Judge Amy Jones presides over Marion County's mental health court. She said the AIC is a good start, but it could be helping more people.

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Judge Amy Jones, presiding judge of the Marion Superior Court.

"It's a good tool for individuals in our community that have never had an opportunity to be connected with services," Jones said. "I think there's a lot more that we can do for the individuals (who) are not so sick that they have to be hospitalized, but are too sick to follow through on their own."

Jones said she would like to see the AIC start accepting those who need a stronger push to get them to stop using.

"I really would be hopeful that their services could expand to those people that are limited engagement, not just to people who've never been connected," Jones said.

Free overdose reversal medicine is available in this box near the entrance to the Assessment Intervention Center.

As for Hearne, she said that three-mile walk to the AIC was the best decision she's made.

"I was scared when I went in," Hearne said. "They calmed me down. They got they got me everything that I needed."

Hearne spent 24 hours at the AIC before moving to a residential treatment program in Indianapolis.

Eighteen months later, she said she's sober, reconciled with her family and paying her own bills.

“My addiction was strong, but I know for a fact that I was stronger," Hearne said. "And I was able to come out of it. I do thank God every day I was able to and I had the resources that I had, and the guidance."

Related: 'I was a monster': Fixing minds and changing lives in Marion County's mental health court | Serving sobriety at Ann's Restaurant in Franklin | An alternative to arrest: First-of-its-kind facility opens in Indianapolis

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on X/Twitter: @vicryc.

AIC Referrals

Any Marion County resident in need can get a referral to a treatment program at the Assessment Intervention Center, 2979 E. Pleasant Run Parkway North Dr.

Walk in anytime, day or night or call 317-327-8733.

Need help?

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call 211 to connect with resources in your area or visit the Indiana Addiction Treatment website.