Drug court moving forward
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca County Drug Court plans to start this fall.
The program seeks to reduce recidivism among opioid addicts by intensive counseling, ongoing substance abuse treatment, frequent meetings with probation agents and drug testing twice per week.
Each offender who enters the program will be monitored by a team that includes law enforcement and mental health professionals.
“There are plenty of studies that show over the last 20 years that drug courts that maintain evidence-based practices reduce recidivism by as much as 25 percent over a two-year period,” according to Aaron Holt, the county’s drug court coordinator.
Holt was hired as Waupaca County’s first drug court coordinator in May.
Holt said his role will be to accept referrals, complete assessments on potential drug court participants, maintain records, work as a case manager and work with the drug court team.
He said drug courts have a proven record of being cost effective.
“For every dollar invested in drug court, you save $3 versus the conventional court system,” Holt said. “If you include hospitals and treatment, you can save up to $27 for every dollar invested in drug court.”
Prior to becoming the drug court coordinator, Holt had been working as a counselor at Ministry Behavioral Health, in Stevens Point.
He earned an associate’s degree in drug and alcohol counseling from Fox Valley Technical College in 2011, a bachelor’s degree in addiction science from Viterbo University in La Crosse in 2013 and is currently working on a master’s degree in community counseling at Lakeland University.
“I’ve worked as a counselor with patients who have been drug court participants,” Holt said. “I know that it works.”
Speaking about his own experience as a counselor, Holt noted the current opioid epidemic.
“When I first started at the treatment center, 75 percent of the patients had problems with alcohol or marijuana and most were over 30. About 25 percent were other drugs,” Holt said. “Over the last three or four years, it has changed dramatically. Sometimes, almost the entire patient caseload was under 25 with opiate addiction.”
Holt said the majority of heroin addicts started with pain pills that were either prescribed after surgery or stolen from a relative or friend’s medicine cabinet.
“They switch to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to obtain,” Holt said.
Holt is working with a team of social workers, prosecutors, law enforcement and medical professionals.
Many of the team members completed a training program sponsored by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
“We’re using that training to develop a policy and procedures handbook,” Holt said.
The program has five phases that participants must complete. It usually takes about 14 months.
Each phase has a set of criteria that the participants must meet before completing the program.
During the early phases, participants have more frequent drug tests and more frequent judicial status hearings. How they spend their time is monitored and structured.
Studies indicate that incentives and escalating sanctions, including jail, are strong motivators for changing the behaviors that lead to drug use.
Research has also found that drug courts are most successful with high-risk offenders who are relatively younger and have more prior felony convictions.