Stepping ahead of addiction

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Kokomo Perspective on 8/4/2016 by Devin Zimmerman

Howard County Probation looking to implement pretrial services and addiction-fighting drug

drugFor those struggling with addiction, help may be coming a bit sooner.

Howard County Probation Department is making progress not only in implementing a program to administer Vivitrol to clients struggling with addiction, but also efforts are underway on a comprehensive pretrial program that could accelerate the access to addiction treatment that clients receive.

The basic framework for a pretrial release on bond program consists of allowing low-level offenders, in this case individuals charged with misdemeanor crimes or level 6 felonies, to partake in addiction treatment in order for them to procure bond from jail prior to a trial. The idea is two-fold. One, according to department officials is it’s not uncommon for addicts to not be able to afford even small bonds because of the constraints of their addiction, and two, this could be the jumping-off point for effective addition treatment.

“Why let them sit in jail when you can get them treatment?” said Assistant Chief Probation Officer Mike McCoskey. “And we can lower the jail population, and it’s a win-win situation. If they’re low-risk offenders we’re going to get them the help they need, lower the jail population, and get them started on treatment before sentencing.”

For the probation department the question is why waste time in jail when addiction treatment could be more useful?

As the plan still is being developed, in its current iteration the pretrial release on bond calls for an assessment via the probation department. With that, the probation department then can determine if a candidate qualifies for the program. One factor to consider, according to Chief Probation Officer Dustin Delong, is the likelihood of a client returning for court dates once he’s been released.

“Basically, we’re trying to assess people for need and the likelihood that they’ll appear for court dates if they were released for court dates,” said Delong.

He added that it’s not the probation department that has the final call on a client’s ability to partake in the program. Rather, the probation department makes a recommendation to a judge. Also, participation in the planned program must be voluntary.

After assessment, the program’s preliminary plan then allows individuals to bond out of jail should they partake in drug treatment if they need it. If opioid abuse or alcoholism is the culprit then Vivitrol can be administered to clients.

Vivitrol currently is being explored by the county as a means of curbing addiction issues. The drug, which is already seeing use in other Indiana counties, eliminates both the cravings for opioids and alcohol, as well as the pleasurable effects of the substances. This medically-assisted treatment, which is meant to be administered alongside other therapy methods, eliminates the need to use.

Granted, the county still is making steps in putting this plan into place. All of the details surrounding the administering of Vivitrol still are being worked out, as the drug only is effective for 30 days and requires subsequent doses. Also, the county is continuing to explore options for Vivitrol treatment after a jail sentence is completed by a client.

“The key component that we need to work on is continuing services,” said Delong. “So the program has to be pretty comprehensive and wrap around the client so there’s not as many hoops to jump through and hurdles to overcome when we’re trying to give Vivitrol and treatment all at once.

“The only thing I can say is the part that we’re working to improve our success rate is having a seamless integration into a program after release from jail. That takes time. That kind of programming, you have to have many different players playing the same game with the same goals. To make that happen it takes a little bit more time, and we’re working on that. The goal is to develop a program to maximize the benefits to the clients.”

Delong said prior to implementation, the program must be approved by players in the Howard County justice system, such as the prosecutor’s office and judges. According to Sheriff Steve Rogers, he’s on board with Vivitrol being administered at the jail. He said he met with his facility’s doctor, and he’s agreed to administer the drug.

“I checked with my contract doctor and got them on board with the program,” said Rogers.

According to McCoskey, there’s also the labor to consider. The probation department’s case workers recently incurred a slightly larger workload after a position was eliminated via the attrition program, and the implementation of the proposed pre-trial programs would require manpower.

“That’s the scary part,” said McCoskey. “We don’t know yet how much it’s going to increase our workload. Do we need to have somebody at the jail two times a week or three times a week? Do we have to go every day and send an officer? How are we going to do that with the caseloads we already have? Or, eventually, maybe we’ll have a fulltime officer doing only this piece and have a full time officer at the jail. But things are happening in a positive way right now. We haven’t hit any big bumps or obstacles yet.”