COLUMBUS — Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Stacy Cook knows the public wants judges to be tough on crime, but on Monday she was among roughly 850 people looking for ways to address a revolving door of drug-addicted offenders beyond prison.
“That truly is what we’re trying to balance here,” the administrative judge said during a break of the first Ohio Judicial Symposium on Opiate Addiction. “We want to keep our communities safe. We want to follow through with the punishment and restrictions that are due for the offenses but also try to look at what the problem is.”
Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, and Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined judges, law enforcement, state and local officials, and mental health advocates from 83 counties to brainstorm on how to deal with Ohio’s heroin problem.
“When 40 percent of your prison population are people who go into prison for less than a year ... I don’t think at the end of the day that they’re coming out better than when they went in,” Mr. Kasich said.
To some extent, the growth in heroin use has been blamed on Ohio’s crackdown on prescriptions of OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and other opiate painkillers as some have turned to the easier-to-obtain alternative.
Department of Health statistics showed that heroin overdose deaths increased in 2012 for the fifth consecutive year to 680, up from 426 in 2001.
“We’re getting far more heroin positives than what I’ve seen in the past, not only while on the bench but while in practice prior to taking the bench,” Judge Cook said.
The state has enacted a series of laws to better fund addiction treatment programs and to require better control of opiates by doctors, hospitals, and others.
It’s also become a political issue. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald and former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general respectively, have argued the state was slow to respond.
After several years of largely stagnant funding, Bud Hite, director of the Lucas County Correctional Treatment Facility, said the funding stream has improved.
He estimated the county will have seen as much as $2.5 million for residential and outpatient treatment in recent years.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.