MEDINA — Current and former members of local drug courts said Wednesday that the supervised programs designed to help bring addicts past the grips of substance abuse are nothing short of lifesaving.
Many of them credit the drug courts, run by Medina County Common Pleas Judges Christopher Collier and Joyce Kimbler, as the main reason they are on the road to recovery.
“At one point, I was on (the other) side of things,” said Michael Flaherty, CEO/executive director of the Serenite Restaurant and Culinary Institute, which helps men and women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction through employment and education in the culinary arts.
Twenty years ago, he wasn’t sure he was going to live another five years because of his drug addiction.
“I figured it out,” Flaherty said.
“There’s true support happening in the community. We’re fighting back. We’re on the front line. We’re not letting this beat us.”
The mission of the Medina County Drug Court is to improve the overall quality of life in the community by providing a court-supervised program for substance-dependent offenders that will enhance their likelihood of being productive members of society, while keeping the community safe.
Several in recovery stood in the gazebo Wednesday on Public Square and told their stories at the National Drug Court Awareness event. There were about 100 in attendance.
The awareness event was designed to change attitudes, promote recovery and achieve wellness.
Danielle Hommel, who graduated from Kimbler’s Medina Intervention Program in 2016, said seven years ago, she was a “hopeless dope fiend.”
While in jail, she said others told her she would have to jump through hoops to qualify for the drug court program.
“I asked for it,” Hommel said. “The drug court never gave up on me. I learned the tools to be sober.”
She’s proud that she hasn’t been in jail since 2015. She just completed her first semester of college and is majoring in psychology.
Hommel said she wants to provide stability for her son.
Kim Erwin, another drug court graduate and assistant general manager at Serenite, said it hit him just how many people in the community helped him in his darkest time.
“There is a true culture of recovery (at the Recovery Center of Medina County),” he said.
He said he owes so much to drug court, which he called an “amazing program.”
The success stories kept coming Wednesday.
Like that of a once-homeless woman who tried 10 different treatment facilities and is now coming up on a year of sobriety.
Or, a man in his 11th month of sobriety who said his lowest point came when he took carfentanil and almost died on Dec. 23, 2016. First responders revived him with seven doses of naloxone.
James Worth, a participant in the intervention program, said he decided it was time to turn around his life while sitting in Medina County Jail.
“I was in a dead end,” he said. “I’m messed up. I need help.”
He said he started by setting tiny goals for himself.
“I’m so grateful to the program,” he said. “You have to believe in a higher power bigger than you.”
Both of the judges’ programs are 14 or 15 years old, said Veronica Perry, chief probation officer.
“They started in 2003 or 2004,” she said.
Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell said when he was on the police force, things were different.
“We’d arrest people and put them in jail to keep them away from drugs,” he said.
In 2014, the state started a trial program by giving naloxone to first responders in Lorain County.
He said he remembers appealing to Medina’s Bill Batchelder, then speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, and wanting the drug for his officers.
“Why are we letting people die?” he asked.
Hanwell said six weeks later, his officers had naloxone to use on overdose patients.
County Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson said he came up through the ranks and once shared Hanwell’s earlier sentiments. He has since changed his stance.
“I grew up being tough on drugs,” he said.
“It didn’t work. Simply incarcerating people won’t get them out of drug addiction.”