Hooked: Classes, drug courts, halfway houses help addicts find way out
In southeastern Ohio, while the drug problem is increasing, the number of facilities equipped to treat and help those convicted due to their addiction is limited. Many criminals become repeated offenders because of their inability to curb their habit.
“We just started a recovery class until we can get them a facility,” said Melanie Ferrell, Washington County probation officer. “Unfortunately, those are few and far between.”
The Smart Recovery Class is one of three options available within the court to help those convicted due to some sort of drug abuse. It’s a volunteer program that requires participants be on probation with the Marietta Municipal Court to join.
Available also are Thinking for a Change and in-house and drug and alcohol assessments.
“(The Smart Recovery Class) began three weeks ago,” explained Sarah Wright, case manager with the probation office in the Marietta Municipal Court. “It’s a 12-step support group without religion mixed with a thinking process group.”
The meeting is run by a group facilitator who has taken the online training course, said Wright, and is held every Tuesday.
While a drug court — a court that incorporates several entities to help addicted offenders into long-term recovery — used to be in place in Washington County, in 2008 the funds dried up and the drug court was dropped.
“There were two separate drugs courts,” said Marietta Municipal Court Chief Probation Officer Jason Hamilton. “There were drug courts for both the Marietta Municipal Court and the Washington County Common Pleas Court.”
From 2006 to 2007, approximately 40 people participated in the Marietta Municipal Court Drug Court, according to Hamilton. He said on average, the caseload was 15 to 20 people at any given time during that period.
The drug court ran from 2004 to 2008, but Hamilton noted they do not have statistical information for any of the other years it was in service.
Though, the success rate wasn’t particularly high, he said, it was satisfactory considering the circumstances.
“The success rate was minimal based on the services readily available in the community during that time period,” he said.
He noted in order to receive treatment from the courts, an addict must be ordered by the court to receive counseling.
“Anyone we’re dealing with is someone who has come through the court,” he said.
However, oftentimes the people they treat were not sentenced on drug related charges.
“We may uncover a heroin addict or user once they go through the court,” said Hamilton, noting if a person seems to be a user, they test them to see if they need treatment. “It’s not so much stacking new charges on them, but getting them the treatment they need.”
Many times, they will use the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS) to test a person in order to assess their needs and whether or not they need to participate in the drug programs provided by the courts.
“It’s a state tool developed out of the University of Cincinnati and it’s consistent as far as identifying those who need treatment,” explained Hamilton, noting the score will determine the treatment needed. “We were fortunate the state gave us some funding to have our own independent assessor.”
Hamilton noted there are always openings for those going through the court system who need counseling and other services.
“We don’t necessarily have a choice,” he explained. “The court order is for the offender and we accept everyone no matter what.”
While the drug court was successful in some cases, due to the inability to acquire enough funds, it was eliminated and addicted offenders were sent out of the county to recover. Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane said he initially saw progress in the drug court system but believes a halfway house in Washington County is now the right way to go.
“With a drug court, you get one counselor, one probation officer and an administrator,” explained Lane. “With a halfway house, you get a lot of staff to work and they can design each program to fit each defendant; I’ve been working to get a halfway house here and I’ve put all my efforts to that in the past five years.”
He explained they initially tried to gain funding from the state to secure a drug court, but were unsuccessful.
“The drug court was very successful, the problem was we could never get any of the state funds,” he said, noting other counties with better grant writers secured the state funds. “We finally just gave up on the state and got a federal grant; we got it and ran it for four years, but then you have to pick it up and take it over on your own.”
He said when the grant money ran out, they could no longer support the drug court. Lane added the halfway house would go a long way in the efforts to combat the rampant drug abuse in the valley and it would be completely funded by the state.
“It will be paid for by the state and we won’t be subject to getting a grant to pay for it every four years; once we get one and it gets going, it will prove its worth,” said Lane. “I’m absolutely convinced it will.”
During a sentencing recently, Lane announced progress was being made in securing a halfway house for Washington County and said he was informed it will be open on March 1.
Mark Kerenyi, the magistrate for the Washington County Common Pleas Court juvenile/probate division who won the judge’s seat in the Washington County Common Pleas Court this past election, said he will continue to work on finding funding to bring back the drug court to Washington County.
“I don’t think having a halfway house does away with the need for a drug court, but I believe it is helpful; I’m still under the impression that we need a drug court and we’re going to move towards it,” said Kerenyi. “We have a serious heroin epidemic and every option is a good option.”
In the meantime, Ferrell said they will continue working through the system in hopes of saving more lives from addiction.
“As far as getting them into treatment, it would be great to have a halfway house,” she said. “Until then, we just have to make do.”
Regardless, Ferrell said it is crucial that treatment is made available for these convicted addicts in order to make a dent on diminishing drug abuse in Washington County and the surrounding areas.
“This is probably the roughest year I have had here as far as the drug problem goes; people are coming in on the first offense OVI and once I meet with them after a couple of months, I find they have a huge drug problem,” she said. “It’s getting overwhelming.”
Ferrell noted she finds motivation through one successful rehabilitated addict at a time.
“If I can help just one person, it’s all worth it,” she said. “I can deal with the next 20 to 50 cases that come through.”
She added the support, though, is what is going to make all the difference and more support systems are desperately needed.
“That’s where the sober living and rehabilitation facilities come into effect because these programs require counseling and groups; you have to have that support,” she explained. “If you don’t have it and don’t go back to your drug of choice, you end up going back to something else.”
About Smart Recovery
¯The Smart Recovery Class is a volunteer program that started three weeks ago.
¯It’s essentially a 12-step program that eliminates the religious element.
¯They meet once a week on Tuesday and are led by a group facilitator that has taken the online training course.
¯A person must be on probation with the Marietta Municipal Court to join.
Source: Sarah Wright, case manager at Marietta Municipal Court.