Six people graduated from Highland County’s New Way to Recovery Drug Court Docket program Sunday at Good News Gathering in Hillsboro.
The graduates were Hillsboro residents William Elkins, Angela Mason, Greg Wallace, and Joshua Mullins; and Greenfield residents Matt Jackson and Ronald Howland.
This was the third graduation ceremony for the Highland County program. There have been 20 graduates of the program, and there are 28 current participants.
The program is an intensive four-phase drug intervention process for high-risk offenders lasting a minimum of 18 months. Drug courts exist around the country, and Highland County’s program, which is certified by the Supreme Court of Ohio, began in August of 2019.
“It’s been more successful than I even imagined it would be, and we are really seeing people make lasting changes,” said Highland County Probation Department Director of Programming and Clinical Services Tonya Sturgill, who serves as the drug court coordinator.
All of the drug court graduates are currently employed, two are in the process of buying their own home, and five have valid driver’s licenses.
“We have a very successful program because we have an amazing treatment team,” said Sturgill. “We work daily with treatment providers in and around Highland County to provide the participants the support and encouragement they need.”
Sturgill said the program’s treatment coordinator Kim Davis and probation officer John Parr work tirelessly to make the program work. “They literally work twenty-four-seven to provide support, encouragement and accountability to make sure these guys are on the right track,” she said. “They answer their phones evenings, weekends, holidays, and in the middle of the night, not because we pay them so well to do it, because they truly care about the participants and believe in the process.
To qualify for the program, participants must be screened by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss, who leads the effort.
“The drug court would not be possible without Judge Coss,” said Sturgill. “I cannot say enough good things about him, and even if I could, you really have to see him in the courtroom to fully understand how great he is at leading our team and engaging the participants. You can tell he truly believes in the drug court model, and I feel like that’s one of the reasons we are seeing so much success.”
Sturgill said opioids and methamphetamine are the most prevalent drugs that have plagued members of the drug court program.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. has increased by nearly 30 percent from 2019 to 2020 and has quintupled since 1999. The agency reported nearly 75 percent of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.
Adding to the problem, in the years since 2015, illegal drugs have frequently been mixed with fentanyl as a cheap way to increase profits for drug dealers. Currently, according to the CDC, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for adults ages 18 to 45 in the United States. In the year ending in April 2021, fentanyl claimed the lives of 40,010 Americans in that age range.
The program’s graduates have completed at least 20 months in the program and had at least 12 months with no positive drug screens.
Sturgill said that fortunately no participants in Highland County’s drug court have been killed by a drug overdose, but recently an active participant in Clinton County’s program died from an overdose.
“We are seeing some amazing life transformations throughout the program,” she said. “I’m really proud of all of our graduates and their accomplishments.”
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.