The old adage “today is the first day of the rest of your life” took on new meaning on Monday for nine people who successfully completed a specialized drug treatment program.
Twenty five people gathered at the Highland County Justice Center to watch and support eight men and one woman who completed the Hillsboro Municipal Court’s Vivitrol program, which allows defendants to enroll in intervention programming instead of sitting in jail.
As part of the program, residential and outpatient treatment is offered depending on the participants’ needs.
The program, now in its third year, came about as the result of a 2015 grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction secured by former Highland County Probation Department Director Jeremy Ratcliffe.
Tonya Sturgill, director of programming and clinical services with the probation department, said the program was created because of the opioid epidemic plaguing the country.
“The opioid issue was out of control,” Sturgill said, “and we were losing so many people to overdoses.”
Some of the participants are offered Vivitrol, an injectable drug that blocks cravings and neutralizes the effects of opioids and alcohol in the body for 28 days. Participants in the program who require Vivitrol get their first injection and some counseling while incarcerated. Following the initial injection, they are furloughed into the community and into an outpatient program which includes counseling three to five times a week. Participants are also required to report to Sturgill’s office weekly and see Hillsboro Municipal Court Judge David McKenna every couple weeks so he can personally chart their progress. For those whose drug of choice isn’t an opioid, an alternative programming is now available, Sturgill said.
“We’re now fortunate to have two treatment facilities in Highland County,” Sturgill said. “There is a female residential center in Greenfield that is run through Scioto-Paint Valley and the male facility outside of Belfast that is run through Family Recovery Services.”
In remarks Monday, McKenna was quick to point out that Vivitrol isn’t a cure-all for the opioid problem.
“It’s the best thing we’ve got right now,” he said. “And it’s a long way from being perfect. But it’s one good piece in this horrible puzzle that we have. I think the difference between now and what we had three years ago can be seen in the coroner’s office.”
One year ago, overdose deaths were being counted every week, McKenna said. The judge said that number has been cut back tremendously due to the impact of the Vivitrol program, a much broader base of counseling providers, and the availability of Narcan, a drug that instantly reverses the effects of opioid overdose.
During Monday’s graduation ceremony, McKenna presented each person with a wristwatch as a reminder that the one thing they can’t get back is time, especially time wasted.
“You can get back love and you can re-earn trust,” he told those assembled in his court room. “You can even get back friendships and family, but you can’t get back time, so when you leave here today I want you to remember that.”
McKenna also gave graduates a fresh start by forgiving fines.
“Some of these folks have cases and fines dating back to 2013,” McKenna said. “And in many cases they’ve been working to pay these fines off, some by working a job and some through community service.”
McKenna added that with the completion of the program, some participants have upwards of two thirds of their debt paid off, while others have satisfied hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines.
“It’s not like these fines just magically disappeared today,” he added. “Throughout this program they’ve all been working on paying some of these fines and costs in one way or another.”
McKenna said that with participants’ backgrounds, there is difficulty in getting a full time job and many of them have families. McKenna said it would be better for them to have money otherwise spent on fines to be available for their kids, or to pay for insurance.
One of the graduates, Michael Hornschemeier, who is originally from Hillsboro but now lives in Midland, said the program helped him tremendously.
“I was fortunate to get to go to a sober living house in Clinton County,” Hornschemeier said, “and that’s where I learned what I know now… how to live again without using drugs.”
It was there that Hornschemeier began the slow process of putting his life back together. He took “baby steps,” as he called it, to stay sober, get a job and give back to society. But the first step, he admitted, was the most difficult.
“You have to admit that you have a problem,” he said, “and then make the decision that you have to do something about it.”
Hornschemeier said he has enjoyed his success, but keeping it together and making things right is still an uphill battle as he moves forward.
“From here I want to continue on working, keep on doing what I’m doing, try to get my kids back and keep living a sober, productive life from here on out,” he said.
Sturgill said the success of the program depends on how you measure success — for Sturgill, it’s simply looking at the difference made in someone’s life.
“I see successes everyday,” Sturgill said. “When someone all of a sudden gets their driver’s license back when either they haven’t had one or lost it ten years ago… when that person now has a full-time job and they have that look of pride on their face where before there was one of defeat… or they’re still clean and sober after 60 or 90 days… to me, that’s success.”
Tim Colliver can be reached at 937-402-2571.