75% of those that come before Ottawa County Probate Court Judge Bruce Winters for a criminal offense test positive for drugs. A majority of those test positive for opiates, most often prescription drugs. Opiate addiction has quadrupled in 15 years, and Ottawa County is no exception. According to Winters, the problem is county-wide and crosses all social and economic classes.
The problem of opiate addiction
The problem of opiate addiction often begins with a prescription from an emergency room, dentist, family doctor or pain management clinic, and can escalate to an addiction that costs up to $200 a day. This causes a great deal of collateral social and economic damage, according to Winters, and at times results in the person switching to heroin as a cheaper alternative to avoid being “dope sick” from withdrawal.
The role of the courts
3,000 drug tests per year are being administered in Ottawa County. The Court orders drug tests when a person enters the court system and random drug tests for those on probation. For those who test positive for drugs, a short-term stay in the Ottawa County Jail is the first step.
The next step, if there is a positive drug test while the person is on probation, is the Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), a 16 week treatment plan of three hours of classes three days a week and regular consultation with a mental health professional. “This seems to be working significantly better than the locked-in treatment program,” says Winters.
If an addict chooses not to help themselves and follow the IOP program, a Department of Corrections prison is the next step. “The recidivism rate for those sent to prison is 95%,” according to Winters.
On Nov. 7, Ottawa County began a new initiative, a Drug Court. The Court is for high-risk, high-need offenders. An individual can ask for Drug Court or be nominated by a family member or by their attorney. Those with a drug or an alcohol addiction can apply. Each Thursday, there is a sit-down with probation officer, treatment officer and drug court co-ordinator to address progress and short-comings.
The Drug Court program is 66 weeks long, the minimum requirement set by the Ohio Supreme Court for a step-down program, based on research that 18 months of treatment is required for a person to stay clean and sober.
Judge Winters explained the elements of the first sixteen weeks of the Drug Court program:
•Enrollment in the I.O.P. program
•Drug tests three times a week
•AA meetings three times a week
•Meeting with probation officer three times a week
•Work on a G.E.D. degree or equivalent if indicated
•Show that prescribed medication is being taken
•Establish a stable home environment
•A program with a mental health professional if indicated
“The best chance for recovery is when the person has family support,” emphasized Winters.
Quest for Clean and Sober Living
Winters has identified another need--a clean and sober living environment for the recovering addict. There are no such places in Ottawa County. He envisions a Clean and Sober Living House that is peer-monitored, not court-mandated, with a salaried house manager. The objectives of the Clean and Sober Living House would be sobriety, mental health, physical health and spiritual health.
Since the Clean and Sober Living House would include what Winters sees as a key element, that of spiritual health, it would need to be funded by private individuals, businesses and civic organizations. He sees it as a natural mission for Ottawa County churches.
The first step in setting up a Clean and Sober Living House is to establish a committee of six or more people willing to make a year-long commitment to find the funding and set up a Board for the House.