A summit of county officials and others is scheduled for later this year.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Most people would probably have a hard time finding any good news among widespread community alcohol and drug abuse.
But Mahoning County officials think they've found some and plan to promote it during an alternative sentencing summit later this year, probably in the fall.
No one should be surprised to know that Mahoning, like many other counties, has a serious problem with drug and alcohol addictions and related crimes, said David L. Schaffer, executive director of the alcohol and county's Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board.
But what sets Mahoning County apart are the innovative programs in place to help people deal with those addictions instead of sending them all to prison, Schaffer said.
Chief among these programs are a series of drug courts, where first-time offenders can seek counseling instead of a conviction. There are drug courts at all levels of the county's court system, including juvenile court.
"We are able to reach people from adolescence through adulthood," Schaffer said.
Counseling: Courts and police also work with several social service agencies to provide counseling in appropriate cases. Schaffer said some 3,500 people a year are enrolled in some sort of drug treatment program in the county.
Schaffer said many people, even those who work for some of the treatment programs, don't realize how widespread the drug problem is, or how wide the net of services reaches out to help them.
"One of the goals of this summit will be to give the county an understanding of how complex the addiction problem is," Schaffer said. "We want to draw a big picture about drug use and its impact from a community perspective."
The way county officials address drug abuse enforcement, especially with drug courts, will be showcased during the summit, Schaffer said.
To explore solutions: They'll examine "effective and innovative" approaches to addressing drug and alcohol-related problems, such as prevention services, interdiction efforts, diversion programs and concentrated enforcement in high-intensity drug trafficking areas.
The idea of a summit was endorsed earlier this month by the county's corrections planning board.
Schaffer said court and law enforcement officials, heads of drug treatment agencies and possibly some state officials will be invited to attend the summit and share ideas.
If the summit is successful, Schaffer hopes to see an offshoot advisory panel created that could meet regularly and continue building new partnerships.