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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Has High Hopes For First Drug Court, TAD Grant

Heroin and opiate abuse continues to be a growing problem in Marinette County, but steps are being taken to reverse the trend, provide local treatment for drug abusers, and eventually reduce the number of crimes committed by addicts. The county’s Health and Human Services Department has been assigned the lead role in establishing drug treatment services, but the entire county law enforcement community has come together to prepare plans and seek financial support for a comprehensive effort to attack the problem from all sides.

Health and Human Services Director Robin Elsner reported to the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on Friday, Oct. 18, that prior to the deadline on Oct. 17, he had submitted application to the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Justice for $285,349 in grant funds to help establish a local Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program and related Drug Court here in 2014. The required county match of $94,183 will come from programs and personnel already provided through county departments, mainly his, Elsner said.

County Administrator Ellen Sorensen reiterated that no new county taxes will be levied for the program. However, she felt it eventually could reduce jail and law enforcement costs here if the goal of reducing repeat offenses is achieved.

The grant is for a two year process, but application will need to be submitted again for additional funding next year, Elsner said. He expects need then to be less, because the costs of equipment and training will already be covered.

Elsner thanked State Representative John Nygren and his office staff; Marinette County Circuit Court Branch II Judge James Morrison; and DHHS Community Services Supervisor Rob Valentine, Financial Manager Stacy Strasler and Administrative Assistant Bobbie Doliver. “I couldn’t have done it without their help,” Elsner declared.

The idea for a local Drug Court and TAD program originated with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee months ago when Morrison and District Attorney Allen Brey began expressing frustration with lack of local treatment alternatives for addicts. Morrison said he had sometimes sentenced relatively minor offenders to state prison in hopes the treatments available there would help them get away from drugs. So far, that has not worked. Reports to the various county committees involved have been that treatments so far, including prison time, have had a zero percent success rate with addicts.

Plans for the grant were endorsed by several county committees, and Elsner was assigned to write the grant application, with input from Sorensen, Morrison, and others.

The Drug Court, which has the full support of Morrison, Brey and Branch I Circuit Court Judge Dave Miron, will be operated in partnership with Brown County’s Drug Court and Brown County Judge James Zuidmulder. Elsner predicted eventually the Drug Court could become regional, with perhaps Oconto, Forest, Florence and Shawano counties becoming involved.

“I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a more applicable and appropriate program for what this group (the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee) is designed to do,” declared Sheriff Jerry Sauve. He thanked Elsner for all the work he had done in planning the TAD program and preparing the dual application.

Sorensen also thanked Elsner, and declared he had done “an absolutely brilliant application collaboratively with members of his department. I congratulate Robin on a job well done.”

If the grant is approved, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, which currently is purely advisory, will probably be expanded into a formal steering committee for the TAD and Drug Court programs. That committee will meet weekly to refer addicts to drug court, and monitor progress of those assigned to the programs.

Confidence appeared high that the grant application will be approved. Elsner said the state’s decision has to be made before the first of the year, but he expects it will be within 30 days, and he plans to move forward very quickly after that.

“It’s a full court press...We’ve got a lot of talent here,” declared Sorensen. The Criminal Justice committee includes Sorensen, Morrison, Public Defender Bradley Schraven, Sauve, Clerk of Courts Linda Dumke-Marquardt, Elsner, Brey, Marinette City Police Chief John Mabry, County Board Supervisor Paul Gustafson, Child Support Director Corina Dionne, former member of Wisconsin State Patrol, Bryan Peth, State Corrections Officer Bobbie Christopherson, and Marinette High School Principal Corry Lambie.

“This is fantastic! This is what we’ve needed in this area for a long, long time,” declared Greg Block of Marinette, who said he is a recovering drug addict, one of the very few who remains drug free after being released from prison. He said he now works to help others get free of drug addictions. He and Peter Noppenberg of the Marinette County Jail Outreach program invited anyone attempting to get off drugs to attend ADA meetings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday at the Menominee Covenant Church on 13th Street in Menominee.

Marinette County’s dismal drug record made the national news some months ago, in an article in the Wall Street Journal and was mentioned on some national TV shows.

In his grant application Elsner summarized the rapid growth of the drug problem in Marinette and Menominee since 2006, when a Menominee physician was found to be prescribing high amounts of narcotics (methadone, morphine and oxycodone) to local patients. He was arrested by DEA agents on Nov. 29, 2006 and is now in prison. With their source of narcotic drugs removed, many of his former patients turned to the more readily available heroin.

In the past three years Marinette County has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the state, Elsner wrote in his application.

He cited figures showing six recorded heroin overdose deaths in Marinette County in 2012, plus four overdose deaths related to other opiate drugs. In Menominee County that year there were four heroin overdose deaths, and so far this year there have been four heroin deaths there, plus four overdose deaths from other drugs.

Confidence is high that Marinette County will get the grant. A team of state grant writing experts even came to the county last month to conduct a training session for county officials who would be writing the application.

Elsner said the goal is to assist addicts, which will reduce jail and prison recidivism. He said it is only for non-violent offenders. He said they will probably contract with a half-way house for 10 or 28-day residential treatments, after which other intensive counseling, treatments and testing will be involved. They will be helped to get jobs and become contributing members of the community, away from their former drug-connected companions.

Morrison said half the Drug Court money is going to provide community based treatment, “which we don’t have now.” The TAD and Drug Court are actually separate programs, but need is closely intertwined, and the state had advised the county to seek funding for both programs on a single application.

“This is good,” Block declared of the plans. “As a recovering addict myself, when I got out of treatment I had no where to go. It’s very important to have structure in your life, and to have somewhere to call home!” He said he had lived at the local homeless shelter when he was first released.

The detailed application includes “nuts and bolts” of how the TAD and drug court programs will work. Morrison said they will change the court process to try to divert people who will benefit from the programs, “but if they don’t follow through they will go right back to the regular system.” He said they had tried to seek out and incorporate all the “best practices” used around the state and the nation, “but there will be much need for local input and tweaking.”

There will be weekly meetings of the drug court and its steering committee for referrals and progress assessments.

Elsner said the TAD program will include six month and 24-month programs, “all very intensive.” The goal is to get 20 people served the first year. Intent of the diversion program is to get people into treatment within a week to two weeks of their first contact with his department. He feels it is realistic for one case manager to handle 20 to 35 cases at a time, and intent is to use all the currently available community services that they can.

While Drug Court will be led by Judge Morrison, Morrison stressed that Judge Miron also fully supports the program and has told him that he will be happy to take his turn on the Drug Court. “This is not a one-man band,” Morrison declared.

Elsner said the grant involves possible use of drugs like Seboxin to treat addicts, and he and members of his staff were to meet during the coming week with members of the State Department of Health and Human Services to talk about that.

The local anti-drug task force consisting of community members and businesses also will be critical to the program, Elsner said, since either gainful employment or meaningful community service is essential to their program.

Valentine said by Phase Three of their treatment they will expect the recovering addicts to go into the community to help counsel others.

Block, speaking from his own experience, said helping others is essential to an addict’s recovery.

Elsner said his department is trying to an agreement with the state Probation and Parole office for daily reporting, and Christopherson said they are already working on that.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that these are people who have committed illegal acts, that even though they need help, they are criminals,” Sheriff Sauve quickly responded when a lady in the audience said some jail inmates felt it unfair that they were jailed for “an illness.”

He agreed, though, that treatment opportunities are needed, and that if successful the work load on his department will decrease.

Elsner said in the beginning the program will take more time from the Sheriff’s Department, the judges, the District Attorney and Clerk of Courts office, but once it becomes successful, the number of crimes, arrests and jail inmates should go down, so everyone will benefit.

“I’ve been pushing for this since I got out of prison,” declared Block. “It’s so good to see that it’s coming along...to take people out of prison and make them into contributing members of the community...it’s a miracle!”

Christopherson said her Probation and Parole department is working with the county on a daily reporting program, and that reporting center would be an additional tool that her department could use as well. She said they already have some treatment programs and are working for collaboration with the county as well. Her new budget year starts in July, but soon after that, AODA groups and after care contracts will be awarded. She spoke on the use of Vivitrol or Maltroxon, medications which negate the effects of opiates or alcohol. Valentine said he is also looking into those treatments, and their Dr. Powers is looking at getting certified for them.

Asked about possible use of the old jail adjacent to the courthouse as a residential center for recovering addicts, Sorensen said they currently have a prospective tenant, “but if that falls through, we have been talking about using it for this program.”

Sorensen said once the grant goes through there will need to be some visioning sessions “to determine and beef up the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee’s role in regard to the program.”

In other business at the meeting, Marinette City Police Sergeant Scott Ries introduced personnel who demonstrated a “DRAGER” opiate detection machine that could help get impaired drivers off the road. Morrison said the test results would not be admissible in court, but would allow officers to not allow impaired persons to drive, and to send them on for blood tests.

Ries said officers often stop a vehicle for erratic operation, and observations show the driver is impaired, but alcohol tests are negative. Sometimes the driver in affected by legal prescription drugs, and other times by illegal drugs, dealing with that is complicated with the fact that drug laws have not kept up with the times. He said the machine shows presence of marijuana, and if any THC shows on the test, “You’re guilty!”

One of the demonstrators commented that if the drugs a person takes impairs their abilities, even entirely legal drugs prescribed for them, then the person should not be driving.

Brey said the test results could be helpful to his office, in that it narrows down what the lab tests would have to look for, for example opiates and cocaine versus amphetamines, so they would get results more quickly.

Brey said, however, the courts still depend most on observations made by the officers involved.

The machine costs $4,000, and each test kit costs $25. If the county gets one of the machines early in the game lifetime maintenance will be included.


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