By Mark Powell
The Verdict is Treatment
“Scary.” That’s how Hocking County Municipal Judge Fred Moses describes his first months on the bench. Justice is blind, they say. But Judge Moses couldn’t turn a blind eye to the parade of disturbing things he kept seeing. “I had walked into a war zone, and it was eye-opening.”
His previous work as a defense attorney hadn’t prepared him for coming face-to-face with the reality of heroin-related criminal cases. What scared him most, he says, was the extent of drug misuse. “It was everywhere – people from all walks of life. Even nurses were coming into court. I had never seen anything like it, only heard about it. People were coming in and couldn’t speak. They had needles in their arms. It was scary.”
Judge Moses wanted to do more than put people behind bars where they wouldn’t get better. He wanted to keep them alive so they could get help. But how?
Then a single presentation changed everything. He says he’s always been a fan of specialized courts, dockets where cases are heard that involve specific issues. Judge Moses attended a meeting of the National Association for Drug Court Professionals and sat in on a session about Vivitrol (naltrexone). It’s a drug used to prevent opioid relapse for people coming out of detox. That struck a chord, because 60 to 70 percent of those appearing in Judge Moses’ court were using an opiate. He wanted to learn more about naltrexone’s potential for helping defendants.
Once back in Ohio, a partnership was formed with Hopewell Health Centers to begin offering Vivitrol in 2012. With that, the Hocking County Vivitrol Drug Court became the first in Ohio, and one of the very first in the nation, certified in Vivitrol usage.
“Many participants say Vivitrol gives them mental clarity they haven’t had in years,” Judge Moses explains. “One woman told me she had long wanted to simply read a book but couldn’t. With Vivitrol, her mind is now clear and she feels she’s doing something productive with her life. The ultimate goal is to give participants the tools they need to manage their addiction. The real cure is the treatment that goes with the medication.”
Of the initial five people who originally entered the program, four completed it. Things grew from there.
The intensive program is entirely voluntary. In addition to a court meeting, participants also get together with chemical dependency counselors, a probation officer, and a case manager each week. Participants can enter the program before or after their cases are adjudicated.
And it’s working. Over 200 people have completed the program. Eighty-two percent of them are employed. Only five people who successfully finished the program were arrested again later. The more than 10,000 drug screens conducted since 2012 have only found 62 positive screens for heroin.
The drug court is making a big difference in the lives of the participants. Consider Jeremy’s story. As Judge Moses remembers, “He came into court after having been in and out of jail for years. He’d been misusing drugs for 16 years. We had a big debate over whether to even accept Jeremy. We finally did. He came into the program, got involved in church, and turned his life around. Now he’s married and going to college to become a chemical dependency counselor. That’s why we do it.”
Judge Moses says his goal is for his court to eventually have nothing to do because opioid-related crimes have ended. “One day, I want to sit on my bench, twiddle my thumbs and drink coffee.”
Hocking County Vivtrol Drug Court was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.