Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Treating Addiction: The Path to Recovery Sometimes Begins in Front of the Bench

Ohio, much like the rest of the nation, faces a growing problem with opiate addiction, and it is not only sending abusers to their graves, it’s also ripping apart families. State policy makers are combating both these issues aggressively and family drug courts are a key ingredient to the solution.

Improving the effectiveness of family drug court and breaking down the barriers that limit the ability of families who need the direction and services courts provide is the subject of the second Ohio judicial symposium focused on opiate addiction. Taking place on June 23 in Columbus, the program is titled, “Ohio 2015 Judicial Symposium on Addiction and Child Welfare.”

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said while courts, law enforcement, and treatment professionals are addressing the issue, the problem is greater than these organizations can address on their own.

“This is a community problem. Our courts, law enforcement, and treatment communities across the state are forming strategies to work together on this problem,” she said. “We are making progress. However, we need the entire community to help us. Leaders of the business community, faith community, educators, medical profession, and many others need to get involved.”

Chief Justice O’Connor’s comments are part of a 20-minute video that features some of the state’s leading experts explaining how addiction alters the brain and what drugs are used to treat opiate addiction. The video will be distributed to judges statewide with the hope that they will show it when speaking before civic groups to discuss Ohio’s opiate addiction problem.

Ohio currently has 16 family drug courts certified by the Supreme Court. Family court is designed for parents that have a significant substance abuse problem and are involved in the judicial system by way of an abuse, neglect, or dependency matter. The goal of the courts is to focus on treatment and rehabilitation, and reunification of the family.

Drug abuse among those who have contact with Ohio’s child protective services isn’t a minor issue. More than 42 percent of parents in contact with childrens’ services have identified substance abuse issues, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).

The symposium is hosted through the partnership of the Supreme Court’s Specialized Docket and Children & Families sections, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, ODJFS, and the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.

Ohio is one of five states to receive a Family Drug Court Statewide System Reform Program grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to help fund statewide systematic reform for family drug courts.

Ohio Supreme Court Specialized Dockets Program Manager Orman Hall managed treatment programs for more than 25 years, and now manages the Supreme Court program that assists drug courts.

“The emphasis for this year’s opiate summit is working on policy development for parents who are struggling with opiate addiction and have a very real possibility of losing their children because of their inability to deal with their addiction problems,” Hall said.

Last June, nearly 900 participants representing 83 counties took part in the first Ohio Judicial Symposium on Opiate Addiction. Teams of five or six professionals whose work is impacted by addiction, the court system, and the child welfare system from each of the counties convened and heard from state leaders and experts who underlined the importance of local efforts to combat opiate and heroin addiction. They left with a mandate to develop plans, and teams continue to meet and implement plans to address the crisis in their communities.

At the upcoming event, juvenile judges will be invited to lead teams. Team members may include: judges, magistrates, child welfare directors, leaders of local alcohol, drug addiction and mental health boards, treatment providers, Guardians ad Litem, volunteer court advocates for children, attorneys representing parents, or other local representatives they feel can help. During the event, judicial, child welfare, and behavioral health leaders will address the teams. And they will hear from some successful participants from Ohio programs.

This article appeared in the June CNO Review, and the full text is available online.