Summit County drug courts try new approaches

Turning Point drug court graduate Drew Sherwood takes up residence at Brian’s house, a sober house, in Wooster. Sherwood, who graduated from Summit Countys drug court in August, says the program gave him the tools he needed to finally kick his drug addiction. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com)

Drew Sherwood credits Turning Point with turning around his life.

Sherwood, who graduated from Summit County’s drug court in August, says the program gave him the tools he needed to finally kick his drug addiction.

“I would say Turning Point helped save my life,” said Sherwood, who has been drug-free for a year and a half and is currently living in a sober house in Wayne County. “I don’t think prison would have done anything for me. I would have gotten out and done the same thing.”

Sherwood, 31, is one of the success stories of Summit County’s drug court programs, which have been challenged in the past few years because of the opiate crisis. Faced with larger rolls and most participants addicted to opioids, the drug courts in Summit County Common Pleas Court and Akron and Barberton municipal courts have been searching for new approaches, some that have already started and others that will soon begin.

“You always have to evolve your program,” said Judge Jon Oldham, who heads Akron’s drug court.

The drug court programs are offered to offenders who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Participants are regularly and randomly tested for drug use, required to appear frequently in court for a review of their progress, rewarded for doing well and sanctioned for not following requirements. Those who successfully complete the program may have the charges against them dismissed.

The new tactics being used in the drug courts include a second docket added in Summit County Common Pleas Court, a Faith in Recovery program planned for next year, a speaker series in the Akron court, and training on administering the opiate overdose antidote naloxone and 12-step meetings offered in the Barberton court.

Summit County

Summit County split the Turning Point program into two dockets earlier this year because of a rising number of participants.

Judge Joy Oldfield, originally the lone drug court judge, and Judge Christine Croce, who took on the second docket, think the switch has gone well. Both have about 90 participants whom they are now able to give more individualized attention.

“It’s the quality of interactions we have with them,” Croce said.

On a sadder note, three men in the program overdosed and died in the past year. Each relapsed after six months or more of sobriety.

“I was devastated,” Oldfield said. “I thought, ‘You’re not God. Why are you shocked they could die on your watch?’”

“You can’t help but want everyone to succeed,” she added.

The judges are hopeful, though, about a new Faith in Recovery program that will be added as an option for participants starting in January. The effort will provide participants with a spiritual mentor from a local church.

Participants also will attend a monthly meeting at a church where a spiritual topic will be explored. The first meeting will be Jan. 26.

Turning Point is partnering with the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board and Love Akron for the program, thought to be among the first of its kind. The program will be offered to participants in the Summit County Common Pleas and Akron courts.

“We’re trying to take this outside the box,” Oldfield said. “We need all hands on deck.”

The program has received a positive response from the faith community, with 25 people committed to being mentors. The mentors mostly hail from Christian religions. Organizers, though, hope people of other faiths also will step forward.

“It is our desire to encourage the church at large to engage, to be involved, to be a voice,” said the Rev. Lori Porter of Love Akron, who is helping with the effort. “There has been proof that people have had greater success with recovery when coupled with their faith.”

Akron

A new effort started last spring to offer offenders in Stow Municipal Court the chance to participate in the Akron drug court program hasn’t gone over like organizers hoped.

They estimated about five people from the Stow court each month would opt into the Akron program. Instead, only two have participated. Stow doesn’t have its own drug court.

Oldham is disappointed with the participation and thinks transportation has been a major stumbling block.

“We’re hoping to figure out what’s going wrong,” he said. “We know the need is there.”

Oldham, however, started a new speaker series in the fall that has been well received. Once a month, he invites a speaker who is in recovery or has been touched by addiction to address the drug court participants.

The judge thinks the speakers have been effective, pointing as an example to one participant who was contemplating quitting the program but opted not to after hearing a speaker in October. The man remains in the program, which currently has 40 participants.

“Everybody’s path is different,” Oldham said. “We don’t know what will motivate them.”

The speaker for December was Travis Bornstein, who, along with his wife, Shelly, co-founded Hope United to fight drug addiction following the fentanyl overdose death of their 23-year-old son, Tyler. His group is part of an ambitious effort to build drug treatment facilities on former Edwin Shaw hospital land in Lakemore.

Bornstein, who heads Teamsters Local 24, detailed the struggles of Tyler, who became addicted to painkillers after surgery for a sports injury, with this morphing into a heroin addiction. He said Tyler would be in recovery and then relapse, never able to achieve a full year of sobriety. Tyler overdosed and died in September 2014.

Bornstein said he channeled his frustrations into Hope United, aiming to help others struggling like his son.

“I will stand up and fight for you — every single day!” Bornstein told the participants. “I need you to fight for you!”

He earned hearty applause from those in the crowded courtroom.

Barberton

The Barberton drug court recently began offering 12-step meetings at the end of each court session.

“A lot of times, people are hesitant to go to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings on their own,” said Kayla Atchison, who manages the drug court, which currently has 12 participants. “This is giving them exposure in court.”

Atchison said she and Judge Todd McKenney, who presides over the drug court, came up with this idea while brainstorming how to improve participation in AA or NA. She said this provides participants a recovery tool that lasts longer than a treatment program.

“That tends to be what keeps people sober long-term,” she said.

In August, the court offered its first naloxone program, which trains people in how to administer the antidote for an opioid overdose. About 20 people participated, with each receiving a prescription for naloxone.

“That’s a good way we are able to get the community involved,” Atchison said.

The court plans to offer the training again in the spring.

Stephanie Warsmith