Judge David McKenna had seen eight previous groups graduate from the Hillsboro Municipal Court’s drug treatment program for misdemeanor offenders. But the group of 14 that graduated Aug. 2 was a little special.
“I’m proud of these folks because quite a few of them are people who had a very long relationship with the court and they have come a long way,” McKenna said. “This group had more of what I’d call the long haul people that have never, in many years, been able to get through a program, but they did.”
He estimated that as whole the group had somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 cases come before the court over the years.
“If you asked me a year ago, I’d given some of them long odds of getting through the program,” McKenna said. “That was one of the good things to see this time — it impacted some people that have been trying to get back on track 10, 15, 20 years — and now they are, men and women.”
Since its inception, each of the program graduates have received a wristwatch — at first they were purchased by McKenna but now the Highland County Probation Department pays of them — in recognition of their accomplishment.
“It’s representative of the time they have regained in their lives, and the future that comes with that,” the judge said.
When it was launched in 2015, the program was centered around vivitrol, a non-addictive drug used to help wean addicts off opiate addictions. But McKenna said the program evolved when opiate use lessened and was replaced by some users with methamphetamine. Vivitrol does not work for meth users.
Those enrolled in the program have already completed substance abuse treatment (usually at an in-patient facility) of least 90 days, but most a year or more, McKenna said.
“There isn’t a specified check list for everyone,” he said. “There’s just a goal line for the future, everyone starts from a different place, and some have bigger hurdles to pass over than others.”
After their in-patient, program participants enroll in after care programs with McKenna checking on them every eight to 12 weeks and the probation department checking on them almost daily. As they pass through the program they take care of their fines and court costs, and work on getting their driver’s license reinstated and finding employment.
“It aims to be a holistic approach. You don’t just get off the drugs, you move on with your life,” the judge said. “There are a lot talented people in Highland County and Southern Ohio that have dedicated their time to these programs to help these people.”
He said the program is funded through grants secured by the probation department.
After around nine months, program supervisors start looking to see if people are going to be able to complete the program.
The most recent group started with 18 members in May, with one or two added thereafter. Along the way a few stumbled — disappeared or dropped out of counseling for various reasons. Those that graduated are done with active supervision with the probation department.
McKenna said the program is one of the better parts of his job.
“It’s the Christian thing, the right thing to do, to help people when you can and pray for the ones you can’t help,” McKenna said. “It is reassuring when you get a group like this one that do get through. It is uplifting when other times of the year most of what happens (in the court) is depressing. It’s good to see people get back on track.
“I’m very proud of the people who have completed this program, and I’m very proud of the people who have worked with these people to make the program a success.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.