Hannah Ruhoff

A Day In Court


Why drug courts give a second chance to people struggling with addiction

Bennett Leckrone / Senior Writer

Applause broke out in the courtroom after one man announced he found a job. Another woman rolled a dice to see how many days of jail she would receive after missing a drug screening. Parole officers and treatment providers alike gave input on their clients’ progress in combating addiction.

It might not be a normal day for the judicial system, but for Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Fred Moses, it’s exactly what he wants out of his drug court – a specialized court docket that helps people recover from addiction.

“We're here to help people,” Moses said after his drug court met on Sept. 27. “We really try to treat people like human beings.”

Moses, who became a barred attorney in 2002, views addiction as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. He has been the Hocking County Municipal Court Judge since 2011.


Hannah Ruhoff | PHOTO EDITOR

Judge Frederick Moses sits at his bench during drug court on Sept. 27.

The drug court offers an intensive, 12-month recovery program for people who qualify for treatment. Potential drug court clients can be identified either before or after adjudication, or when their sentence is decided, but can only be ordered into the program after adjudication. Participation is ultimately voluntary.

In the courtroom located in Logan — about a 30-minute drive north of Athens — parole officers, counselors from local recovery organizations who help with the drug court, and the drug court clients come together to talk about progress and recovery once a week.

In many ways, Moses’ drug court feels like a support group. Sitting at the bench in a button up shirt in place of robes, Moses addresses each client by their first name and speaks candidly with them.

Sometimes he allots praise, he even recommends books to read.

“Have you read Dreamland?” He asks one client, referring to the tell-all book on the opioid epidemic by journalist Sam Quinones.

Other times, he cracks down on clients who violated program rules. One client is taken into custody because a drug screen had shown a prohibited substance in her system. Moses said it was the first such incident in his drug court in some time.


Hannah Ruhoff | PHOTO EDITOR

Hocking County Judge Frederick Moses speaks with one of the drug court participants during court on Sept. 27.

He was hopeful, however, when that client asked if she would be allowed to stay in the program. To Moses, it was a sign of progress.

“The one thing I've learned since I've been on the bench is that everybody's life starts in a good spot,” Moses said later. “Something happened somewhere along the line.”

Moses runs two drug courts that are nearly identical aside from the medicine given to clients. The individuals sitting in the courtroom at noon on Sept. 27 were part of the Judge’s Vivitrol Drug Court.

Not everyone in the courts is addicted to opioids. The programs are open to anyone, Moses said, and some of the participants include recovering alcoholics and marijuana users.

Vivitrol is Moses’ weapon of choice in combating the opioid epidemic. His favor for the drug is backed with evidence: Of more than 8,400 drug screens from the Vivitrol Court in the past four years, only 8.6 percent have been positive.

Of the 8.6 percent positive drug screens, only 10 percent have been opioid-related.

Kelly Gallagan, a peer recovery supervisor with Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime of Southeast Ohio, or TASC, has worked with Vivitrol patients as part of the drug court. She has been with TASC since 2001.

TASC, along with Hopewell Health Centers, are the two primary care providers for the drug court.

“It blocks the opiate from getting into the receptors that make you feel good,” Gallagan said. “You can't get high.”

Gallagan said Vivitrol also works because clients detox before going on the drug and begin recovery with a clear mind.

“Once they're getting clean and they're in treatment, their minds have cleared,” Gallagan said. “They're able to process the whole addiction concept, and it's easier for treatment people too.”

Vivitrol, however, has not been without its criticisms. Moses said an individual has to be clear of opioids before they are given the drug. Otherwise, it would rip the opioids out of their system and force them into immediate withdrawal, Moses said.

Another source of criticism has been the cost of Vivitrol. According to cleveland.com, the Ohio Department of Medicaid spent $38 million on an excess of 30,000 doses of the drug in 2016.


Hannah Ruhoff | PHOTO EDITOR

Probation officers at the Hocking County Municipal Drug Court in Logan on Sept. 27.

Much of the money to treat drug court clients comes from Ohio’s Addiction Treatment Program, Specialty Docket Coordinator And Parole Officer Kathy Shepler said.

The program also receives grant funding from the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board. Bill Dunlap, the board’s deputy director, said it has been worth every penny.

“It’s probably one of the best investments we’ve made … in terms of seeing concrete results,” Dunlap said. “It’s been a real worthwhile effort.”

Alkermes, the company that manufactures Vivitrol, has a Political Action Committee but the committee has never donated any money to Moses or received money from him, according to data from the Federal Elections Commission. Moses acknowledged that the company profits from the patients it treats, like those in his drug court.

“There's money getting them addicted, and there's money getting them off,” Moses said.

Moses said he receives no personal financial gain from running drug courts. According to the Supreme Court of Ohio, full-time municipal court judges like Moses will make $132,150 in 2018.

Regardless of the drug used to treat the patients, both Moses and treatment providers agree that the highest priority of the drug court is keeping nonviolent drug offenders out of prison.


Hannah Ruhoff | PHOTO EDITOR

Judge Frederick Moses is the judge of the Hocking County Municipal Drug Court, which aims to rehabilitate drug abusers rather than put them in jail, in Logan.

According to data from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, drug offenders amount to just below 15 percent of Ohio’s prison population as of January. That number has been dwindling as efforts to divert nonviolent drug offenders have taken effect. In 2009, the drug offenses accounted for nearly 17 percent of Ohio’s prison population.

Drug possession, a nonviolent offense, accounts for more than 5 percent of Ohio’s prison population, or 2,688 inmates.

Keeping nonviolent drug offenders out of prison can lead to better outcomes for their recovery, Burt Dhira, the founder of the Ohio Addiction Treatment Council, said.

Dhira, who runs a recovery center near Columbus and works with drug courts, said locking an individual up is not a substitute for treatment.

“They are put behind bars with withdrawal symptoms that can cause more trauma in an individual who is locked behind bars in a confined space without medication,” Dhira said.

The debate about locking up nonviolent drug offenders has made its way into a statewide conversation.

Issue 1 on Ohio’s November ballot would lower the penalties for possession of many drugs, including opioids like heroin and fentanyl, and require judges to avoid sending nonviolent drug offenders to jail until their third violation within 24 months.

The measure would also direct projected savings based on a lessening prison population, which proponents say could be upwards of $136 million, back to communities for treatment.

Moses said he supports decriminalization of drugs but said Issue 1 would be a disaster.


Hannah Ruhoff | PHOTO EDITOR

Hocking County Judge Frederick Moses speaks with one of the drug court participants during court on Sept. 27.

While Issue 1’s other opponents, like retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the measure and what they say could be a normalization of drugs in the state, Moses is concerned about losing his ability to give sanctions to his drug court clients.

“If they don’t comply with the program, they have one foot in jail, which is a huge plus in the patients’ recovery,” Dhira said. “If you don’t comply with the drug screen or your appointments, the court will put you back in jail. It gives us a better ability to do our job.”

Proponents of Issue 1, however, say there are alternative sanctions to locking people up. David Singleton, the longtime executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, said judges will still have effective sanctions like house arrest or community sanctions.

“Sanctions can and still should be used, but the sanction of sending someone off to prison is where we disagree,” Singleton said.

Moses said he agrees with Issue 1 in that addiction should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.

“This is a medical issue dumped on the criminal justice system,” Moses said. “We need more resources to treat people.”

To Singleton, who said he has been in law for 27 years, the fact that the measure made it to the ballot through a petition that received more than 350,000 signatures, as well as the existence of drug courts, means the public’s perception of drug addiction is changing.

“Twenty-seven years ago, there were no drug courts,” Singleton said.

“You’re looking across the dinner table at your wife, your husband, your brother, your sister … anybody can be a victim,” Dhira said. “Ninety percent of my patients didn’t start with heroin. It’s not like they woke up and decided to put a needle in their arm. Most of them came from a bad car accident.”Burt Dhira

Dhira said a big part of increasing awareness is the fact that the opioid epidemic can reach anyone.

“You’re looking across the dinner table at your wife, your husband, your brother, your sister … anybody can be a victim,” Dhira said. “Ninety percent of my patients didn’t start with heroin. It’s not like they woke up and decided to put a needle in their arm. Most of them came from a bad car accident.”

A client’s recovery doesn’t stop when they aren’t in mandatory counseling, treatment or their weekly drug court meeting, Dhira said. Recovery, as a whole, means more than just attending a weekly court session and going to therapy.

“It’s not getting them into a program and all of the sudden they’re going to be better. You’re rebuilding them from scratch, and giving them pride and giving them hope and connections to their family and friends,” Dhira said. “There’s so many dynamics of recovery, it takes a team to do it.”

Development by: Megan Knapp / Digital Production Editor

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