By Ed Runyan
While many of us know someone with a drug addiction, Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court talks with people about their addictions every week because he runs the county’s drug court.
Drug court is for someone with a pending felony criminal case and a drug addiction. It allows addicts to work on their drug problem through weekly meetings with the judge and drug-treatment professionals with a promise that their criminal charge will be dismissed after about a year if their performance in the program is satisfactory.
When they are successful, they graduate.
Last Tuesday, however, two young women demonstrated what happens when addicts are not successful: prison.
A 36-year-old Warren woman who entered the program in May because of a cocaine-possession offense was sent to prison for about eight months. That type of charge – a low-level felony – normally results in probation for people not in drug court.
Another woman, 28, of Youngs-town, entered drug court in January 2017 on a crack-cocaine-possession charge, another low-level felony. She also got about eight months in prison.
Earlier this month, two people with criminal cases on Judge Logan’s docket died the same week.
His weekly talks with addicts has shown him that addiction to the current drugs of choice – heroin and fentanyl – is worse than in previous years when it was mostly heroin.
“Compared to a few years ago, it’s worse. It’s real bad where we are at right now,” he said.
“These things are happening on a regular basis,” he said of overdose deaths among people on his docket. “It’s not that we’re numb to them, but it’s constant.”
Judge Logan says the drugs being used may have changed and become more dangerous in recent years, resulting in a rising death toll in Trumbull County, but the mistakes addicts make are similar.
“In drug court, I ask how did you get involved in this – and it’s people, places or things,” he said.
Drug-treatment professionals tell addicts that one of the most dangerous things they can do is connect with people, places and things associated with their drug use.
“They ran into someone they used to use with or went to a place where they used to use,” Judge Logan said. “So that’s why we always tell them they have to make a lifestyle change. Some people can’t be involved in your life anymore. Sometimes that works.”
It’s for that reason that some addicts leave Trumbull County and go to Cleveland for treatment. Sometimes they stay there afterward.
Judge Logan said drug court operates on the principle of the “carrot and the stick,” meaning offering something desirable (the chance to avoid a criminal conviction) while making them aware that they will get prison (the stick) if they fail.
Judge Logan says indications that more people are dying every year in Trumbull County from drug overdose can be demoralizing, but the professionals involved stay positive by focusing on the specific individuals in the program.
“It’s very distressing because you get to know them pretty well,” he said of drug court participants who have died. “Unfortunately, it does happen.”
Judge Logan says a very high percentage of the people with criminal cases in common pleas court are addicted to drugs, but they are certainly not the only ones.
People in drug court are there because they were arrested. In many cases, they were arrested because they frequent certain areas that draw the attention of law enforcement. Many others with addictions have only misdemeanor charges and don’t come to the common pleas court. He suspects many other addicts have never been arrested.
Among the ways the drug court attempts to help addicts is using medically assisted treatment, providing mental-health assessments and sending people to treatment through the Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program.
Judge Logan noted that one of the two women who went to prison for failing to stay clean thanked him for the opportunity the drug court gave her. The other didn’t say much.
“I’d say half of them thank me for the efforts we put in,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can, but after we’ve exhausted everything we can, it’s the carrot or the stick. The result for complete failure is prison.”
The judge said none of the people who go to prison should be surprised when it happens.
Such people are placed in “last-chance” status before prison. “Almost always they say, ‘I just couldn’t make it.’ Even when they have that [prison] staring them in the face, they just couldn’t make it.”