While the Hillsboro Municipal Court saw only minor changes in its caseload statistics from 2016 to 2017, Judge David McKenna said the amount of drug-related criminal cases that have worked their way through the court has been on the rise for the past decade — and, although the judge said he believes the opioid scourge may have reached its peak last year, methamphetamine use is a growing concern.
According to a year-end report released by McKenna earlier this week, the court in 2017 saw 2,664 traffic cases, 1,265 criminal cases and 809 civil cases.
McKenna was out of his office and did not have access to exact numbers when contacted Friday, but said the court saw a slight increase in traffic and civil cases, and a “very small decrease” in criminal cases — “statistically insignificant changes,” the judge said.
“It wasn’t anything that we could notice in our day-to-day business out of the court,” he said. “Everything is pretty much routine.”
Not routine is the significant increase in drug-related, and specifically opioid-related, criminal cases in recent years.
“We’ve always had theft cases,” McKenna said. “You can go back to prehistoric times and find a history of thieves, but in the last 10 years, the purpose behind the theft has been increasingly more related to opioids… A significant number of people who are getting arrested for theft or breaking and entering and certain property crimes, there’s a link to opioids.”
The Times-Gazette recently reported that while opioid overdose numbers are difficult to track, local officials have noticed a decline in such overdoses beginning at the end of last summer.
McKenna said he has noticed a similar trend in his court as well.
“From my day-to-day experiences, I think that the opioid stuff may have reached a peak,” he said. “Maybe something has stopped the rising tide, I don’t know.”
But, McKenna said, “If there’s been any kind of decrease in the opioids, it’s been made up for with methamphetamine.”
McKenna said he’s noticed a marked increase in defendants who have failed drug screens because they tested positive for meth.
Despite the onslaught of drug-related crimes, McKenna said he believes increased awareness of the problem in the community, coupled with expanded treatment options, are steps in the right direction.
“One thing that is definitely changing… is we have made tremendous strides in community awareness,” McKenna said.
The judge said Hope Over Heroin, an event held at the fairgrounds last year, increased awareness of the opioid problem here for “hundreds if not thousands of people.”
Better availability of mental health and drug treatment options, including a recently developed residential facility in Greenfield and treatment programs through local courts, have also made a difference, the judge said.
“We have been able to not only build up some defenses to the onslaught of the opiate crisis, but also take some positive steps to combat it with treatment,” he said.
In McKenna’s own court, a program offering defendants monthly shots of Vivitrol, a drug that helps prevent opioid relapse and further dependence, is now in its third year and is set to “graduate” a group of succesful participants on Monday.
“If we can take a few dozen people a year out of the ranks of Highland County heroin users, that’s going to take a chunk out of the crime rate,” McKenna said. “We’re learning more and more how to attack the problem, and that isn’t something that shows up in municipal court statistics.”
But despite these improvements, the judge said, the Highland County community still has a long way to go.
“It’s been 10 years growing this problem, and I’m sure it’ll take another 10 years to get it back to where it’s not,” he said.
Also in McKenna’s report were the court’s total deposits and disbursements for 2017.
Municipal Court Clerk Diane Seeling said a portion of all finds and court costs are disbursed to other government agencies. Funds not paid out to other agencies go into the court’s computer fund or are used for special projects, Seeling said.
The court disbursed $160,489.30 to the state of Ohio; $81,130.59 to Highland County; $279,073.22 to the City of Hillsboro; $2,151.10 to the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy; $14,029.85 to the Highland County Sheriff’s Office; and $11,502.88 to various agencies and municipalities, for a total disbursement of $548,376.94, according to the report.
Including restitution, refunds and overpayments, the court disbursed a grand total of $577,812.96, the report said.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.