More than 30 people appeared in the courtroom at the Highland County Justice Center on Monday before Judge David McKenna, but court was not in session — in fact, 10 of those in attendance were freed from various legal obligations as they “graduated” from a specialized drug treatment program available through the court.
“You’ve all done a wonderful job to get to this point,” the judge said, addressing a crowd of former defendants, family members and friends.
The 10 people recognized Monday had spent at least a year in Hillsboro Municipal Court’s Vivitrol Program, which offers defendants a fast-track to get their legal issues resolved if they enroll in treatment for substance abuse.
Funded by a grant from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the program offers residential and outpatient treatment, and depending on the participants’ needs, includes Vivitrol treatment, an injectable drug that blocks cravings and neutralizes the effects of opiates and alcohol in the body for 28 days.
Participants in the program who require Vivitrol receive their first injection while incarcerated, and when released, are either sent to residential treatment facilities or enrolled in outpatient programs while they report to probation.
McKenna said 300 people have been in and out of the program since 2015, some successful, others not. At any given time, there are roughly 60 people enrolled in residential treatment as part of the program, he said.
The judge gave each graduate a wristwatch to remind them of the time they have gained through recovery and the time they lost in addiction.
“You now have to make the best of it that you can,” he said, adding that time lost cannot be taken back.
McKenna said participants are not finished with their struggles, reminding them that “tomorrow isn’t any easier” just because they finished the program, and that “time is the only thing you cannot buy.”
In a way, the judge said, Monday’s ceremony was a “goodbye” from the justice system and a request that participants not return.
“We’ve got all the business on this side we need,” he said, gesturing toward the bench.
The judge also said that the people running Highland County’s courts don’t want to see defendants incarcerated forever. McKenna compared jail to the emergency room, where some people unfortunately have to stay for some time to “patch things up.”
McKenna credited Tonya Sturgill, the treatment coordinator at the Highland County Probation Office, and Jon Parr, the jail case manager, with much of the program’s success.
The judge told attendees that Sturgill and Parr “will continue to be there for you because that’s the kind of people they are,” adding that the two officials “have made this program work.”
Sheriff Donnie Barrera said Monday’s graduation was “by far one of the biggest ones” he had attended, adding that he saw many family members in the audience supporting their loved ones.
Roger Cheesbro, CEO of Family Recovery Services, said he has attended every Vivitrol graduation, and it is “always a blessing” for him to see individuals completing the program.
“To see folks moving down the path to recovery… this is a miracle,” he said. “I think it’s just fantastic.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.