Valley gets help to fight statewide drug epidemic

Some state legislators in Columbus, including Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, issued a well- intentioned public appeal to Gov. John Kasich this week to declare a state of emergency in Ohio over the pernicious heroin and opiate epidemic that continues to ravage Ohio.

Truth to tell, however, no such official and unprecedented declaration is really necessary. For several years now, a drug-abuse emergency has been painfully evident in the incessantly rising toll of overdoses and overdose deaths, largely from opiates, in the Mahoning Valley and throughout the state.

For just as long, the state has established itself as a national leader in devoting attention and resources to combat the scourge.

The most recent evidence of that aggressive commitment came this week when the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services awarded hefty grants totaling more than $1 million to drug courts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. The grants will be used to expand proven effective addiction-treatment regimens in programs operated by judges in the common pleas courts of the two counties.

Mahoning County’s $439,560 grant is based on serving about 70 clients in the drug court operated by Judge John M. Durkin. Trumbull County’s $628,020 grant is based on serving up to 100 clients in the drug court operated by Judge Andrew Logan.

Lower-level drug charges

The value of that spending is clear. The efficacy of drug courts has been proved time and time again. In such programs, participants plead guilty to lower-level drug charges against them and can have those charges dismissed if they successfully complete treatment. Those who have committed violent or sexually-oriented crimes are exempt.

Completing drug court typically takes 12 to 18 months and encompasses many phases, including withdrawal treatment, counseling and rehabilitation. One must be strong to survive its rigors, but many do so, graduating with flying colors and into new lives.

Judge Durkin, recognized as one of the drug-court leaders throughout the state, rightfully sings the praises of the program. He has said that he takes pride In the program because it gives its participants a second chance at a productive, responsible, addiction-free life.

“Drug courts work. ... We reduce recidivism [repeat criminal behavior]. We get these people to be tax-paying members of our society. They’re getting their families back,” Judge Durkin said.

The new grants will focus on long-term treatments for addicts, such as financing injections of Vivitrol, which block the opiate receptors in the brain to prevent opiate users from experiencing a high and thereby assisting in the transition to opiate-free lives.

The $1.1 million, however, will go only so far. It will assist only those 170 clients currently enrolled in the two Valley programs. Clearly, then, the commitment and assistance from state administrators, state agencies and state legislators cannot be weakened. Nor can other allied troops in the fight, ranging from state and local law-enforcement officers, emergency medical professionals, educators and others, give up the fight if Ohio is to have any hope of lifting the emergency over the opiate plague once and for all.

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