Sheriff recognized for county’s work with drug abusers
YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene admits he wasn’t always supportive of people with drug addiction, but Judge John Durkin, who runs the county drug court, helped him see things differently.
“I’ve been in this line of work about 30 years now,” Greene told the county commissioners Thursday while being presented with a statewide award for the programs he has undertaken to help substance abusers who come in contact with his officers and the jail.
“I’ve really evolved. The whole thing really started with Judge Durkin and the drug court 20-some years ago, where I used to make fun of them. ‘What are you doing with these people? They deserve to be in jail. What’s wrong with you?’
“And somewhere 20-some years ago, I bought into the whole concept that we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We have to treat these individuals,” Greene said.
Drug dealers deserve to go to prison or jail, he noted.
“The people who are addicted, they need to be fixed. One of the biggest focuses, especially when we get them in our (jail) is to do something with them and try to help them while we have them there,” he said.
It is for that approach and other programs in cooperation with the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board that Greene was honored with a CARES award from the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, a statewide group that represents mental health and recovery boards.
Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the local mental health and recovery board, said Cheri Walter, CEO of the statewide group, credited Greene with saving lives and helping families.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton also participated in the commissioners meeting remotely, congratulating Greene on the award.
Piccirilli said his agency and Greene “have one of the best relationships in the entire state. Every one of his deputies have received mental health first aid,” Piccirilli said.
When someone has a nonfatal drug overdose at Mercy Health, the sheriff’s office works with the individual to get him or her treatment.
“He also did some public service spots for us on suicide prevention for men,” Piccirilli said.
“The calls increased after the commercials,” he said. “That’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted men to know it was OK to ask for help. So for the sheriff to lead off the public service spot, it really did a nice job.”
Greene said his officers are trained in how to identify individuals who are coming to the jail who have mental health problems, “to reconnect them with family, to get them on their meds,” he said.
“How often do we see how mental health illness crosses into addiction?” Greene said. “I’ve said this from the very beginning. I truly believe that probably 95 percent of the people in our facility are either suffering from addiction or mental health or both.”
Greene said when he became sheriff eight years ago, he became the first to supply his officers with naloxone and training on how to use it to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. His officers then trained officers from other departments.
Greene said he realizes some people are still cynical about helping addicts.
“It’s to reduce recidivism, to get people’s lives back together and reduce crime, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re probably the biggest mental health hospital in Mahoning County. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way we’re doing things now, and we’re here just to help people.”