Saturday, December 14th, 2013
By Margie Wuebker
New program set to battle heroin addiction
Editor's note: This is the final story of a three-part series about the heroin problem in the area, its impact on the community and steps being taken to deal with the issue.
A multi-pronged approach to dealing with drug and alcohol addiction in Mercer County debuts Jan. 1.
The Mercer County Drug Court Program or Specialized Docket is designed to rehabilitate local residents charged with felonies and diagnosed with drug and/or alcohol dependence.
Another aspect is a pilot project that provides monthly Vivitrol injections to help inmates and those on probation overcome their opiate addictions. The drug blocks receptors in the brain to decrease cravings and to eliminate the sought-after highs.
"This is the first glimmer of hope in the battle against heroin," said Brian Engle, executive director of Foundations Behavioral Health Services. "The combined program focuses on the problem from all aspects."
Court officials frequently see the same people in court - either for new cases or for violating previously imposed community control sanctions. One goal of the drug court is to reduce recidivism.
Mike Huber, the court's chief probation officer, said the four-member adult probation staff has been stretched "pretty thin" in recent months.
In 2010, Ingraham placed 169 people on probation. This year there were 248 as of Nov. 22.
Also, 58 CCS violations have occurred this year, with many involving drug usage that led to bond revocation. That statistic compares to 32 revocations in 2012 and 26 in 2011.
"Prisons are full and there is no local residential program for drug offenders," said Mercer County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Ingraham. "Drug court has worked well in other counties and we are approaching implementation here in the county optimistically."
The judge admits it is disheartening to see a defendant vow to avoid drugs at the time of sentencing, only to be brought back weeks or months later for violating sanctions.
"You give them a chance to overcome their problem, but they quickly revert to their old ways," he added. "Hopefully, drug court will give them the motivation to stay clean and to get the help they need."
Ingraham's staff spent considerable time putting together the plan and drafting the policy manual to implement the drug court. Ohio Supreme Court approval was awarded in mid-November.
Ingraham serves as chairman of the drug court advisory committee. Other members include Mercer County Prosecutor Matt Fox, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey, local attorney Louis J. Schiavone and Engle. Those serving on the treatment team are R. Jason Cupp, social service supervisor with Mercer County Job & Family Services; Ingraham, Engle and Huber.
"Counties with specialize dockets in place have reported success," Ingraham said. "The program quickly identifies those who really want to overcome addiction."
One of the hallmarks of a drug court is that offenders must appear in court on a regular basis to answer for themselves and take responsibility for non-compliance.
Selected participants - likely about two dozen - must complete an orientation during which they will learn about drug court requirements, schedule weekly meetings with probation officers, submit to drug and alcohol counseling and receive information on 12-step or other recovery support groups and how to obtain a sponsor.
Ingraham expects many of those who are selected will come from the adult probation department's intensive supervision rolls, current inmates and those released from prison as a result of judicial release.
Foundations will provide the basic treatment services for participants: Living in Balance, an eight-week program with three group counseling sessions and one individual counseling session per week; Step Down Program, a four- to eight-week program combining counseling sessions and relapse prevention; and Outpatient Services, ongoing counseling sessions for as long as the treatment team and court deem necessary.
Each participant progresses through the phases at different rates. Referrals will be made as needed for vocational and/or educational training, employment services, parenting classes, housing and mental or health services.
Sanctions - verbal warnings from the judge, demotions to lower phases, increased community service requirements, more court appearances, curfews and termination from the program - will be used when a participant fails to comply with court orders, treatment and case management.
Good behavior along with compliance can earn rewards like permission to travel with family members, removal of previously imposed sanctions, fewer office visits and status hearings and advancement to the next phase. Those successively completing the program are eligible for graduation.
At any time during enrollment, participants may be ordered to submit to drug testing.
"There will be no excuses," Grey said. "If people don't show up as directed, we will go out and round them up."
Mercer County and three other counties in the state - Franklin, Scioto and Hardin - have received state funding to establish drug court programs and the use of Vivitrol. The state has pledged $5 million in funding for the program.
Grey believes Vivitrol will be a good tool in the arsenal for inmates who legitimately want to overcome heroin addiction. Without state funding, the sheriff's office would not be able to administer the costly injections - $875 each for a period of one year.
Participants can have one shot per month.
"The goal is to stabilize inmates here in jail and prepare them to stay drug-free on the outside," Grey added. "Vivitrol can't overcome the problem alone...it takes counseling, the courts and everybody working together. Matt Ronan, addiction services coordinator with Foundations, said he is excited about the new program.
"This is new and different," he added. "Why not give it a try? What we have been doing previously was not meeting with a lot of success. Now there is hope on the horizon."
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