Twelve graduate from drug court


Twelve people graduated from Highland County’s New Way to Recovery Drug Court Docket program Sunday at Good News Gathering in Hillsboro.

The graduates were Jayson Vilvens, Larry Smith, Joshua Knisley, Mike Hornschemeier, Travis Carter, Anthony Gillingham, Lacey Hensley, Sydney Yoakem, Melody Schrader, Amber Blankenship, Kevin Wright and Daniel Breakfield.

This was the fourth graduation ceremony for the Highland County program. There have been 32 graduates so far.

The program is a rigorous 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.

“The goal of the drug court is to provide high risk offenders with the opportunity, support, resources, structure and accountability needed to not only achieve sobriety but truly change lives,” said Highland County Probation Department Director of Programming and Clinical Services Tony Sturgill, who serves as the drug court coordinator.

Opioids and methamphetamine are the most prevalent drugs that have plagued members of the drug court program, according to Sturgill. She said she saw a shift to more use of meth in 2015 when she administered Vivitrol, a drug used to prevent a relapse to opioid dependence, to people in jail before they were released.

“Then again, just the death rate was so high, I think honestly addicts scared themselves, and we saw a huge shift to meth,” she said. “We’re seeing some of the opioids come back now, but when you ask my participants about their drug of choice, most of them will say opiates, and then they’ll say they then switched to meth.”

Funding for Highland County’s drug court is administered by the Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board. The money is awarded through two grants — the Special Docket Subsidy and the Addiction Treatment Program grants.

To qualify, participants must be screened by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss, who leads the effort. “It is not for beginners; it is not for first time offenders; it is for the last chance,” said Sturgill. “It is for those who have already been to prison who are more high risk. We are actually looking for those who typically would have went to prison before but now we say ‘let’s give them a chance with this program.’”

Sturgill said the requirements of the program are intensive, and participants receive continual supervision, counseling and drug testing. They are required to stand before Coss twice a month for court reviews.

“They are still on community control, but they are also enrolled in the drug court program,” she said. “They have something on their calendar never any less than three days a week.”

The program consists of four phases going from most to least intensive. “So, it does step down, but in phase one they have something seven days a week that they have to be accountable for whether it’s counseling appointments, reporting here, drug testing or meetings,” said Sturgill.

Those enrolled in the program are required to complete a treatment program. Sturgill said that in 99 percent of the cases it consists of residential treatment followed by aftercare and relapse prevention. Residential treatment programs are followed by transitional programs that provide financial assistance for housing. Eventually, participants typically return to their families or rent their own homes.

Residential treatment is most often provided by Family Recovery Services (FRS) and the Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health Center, which provides facilities for women. FRS provides facilities for men. “We try to use them the most because they are within our county and that’s who we like to support – keep it in the county,” said Sturgill.

Sturgill said the drug court program also utilizes services from the Counseling Center in Scioto County, the Recovery Council in Pike County, the Pickaway Area Recovery in Fayette County, Clean Acres in Clinton County, and Another Chance Ministry in Ross County and Greenfield.

“We have a lot of partners,” said Sturgill. “It takes a lot of partners working together to make this program a success.”

According to Sturgill, the leadership of Coss is integral to the success of the drug court. “It’s almost like he was born to do this. He really is the perfect balance of structure yet encouragement and support. He’s there to be the heavy hand of structure when he needs to be.”

Coss receives regular updates from Sturgill, participates in team meetings, and is eager to hear from the program’s participants. “He’s always there to say, ‘Hey, you did a great job this week,’” said Sturgill.

Participants earn wooden star tokens for accomplishments along their way through recovery. “They’re worthless, but they collect them,” said Sturgill. “Maybe they were just faced with a situation where they were offered drugs on the street and they said no. We acknowledge those things every step of the way because a lot of these individuals never had that. They never had that kind of encouragement growing up.”

Sturgill said the responsibility for success falls squarely on the shoulders of the graduates. “I want to give a lot of credit to the graduates because they really, really do all the hard work; we just give them the opportunity,” she said.

Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.

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