Program could help treat drug offenders, rather than just jail them

WARREN — Working to reduce the grip drugs have on residents will be the focus of a new program proposed by Warren Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gysegem.

“What we want to do is to focus on treatment for offenders, instead of (just) sending them to jail,” Gysegem said. “If this is initiated, the court will be channeling some defendants through what is called a Medical Assistance Treatment or MAT program.”

The effort also will help to lower costs to taxpayers because fewer people will be sent to Trumbull County Jail, Gysegem said.

“Jailing individuals costs the city about $80 per day,” the judge said. “Part of the cost of treatment will be paid through insurance and Medicaid.”

The proposal is similar to one operated in the city of Euclid, in which persons who turn themselves in may avoid arrest and jail time if they agree to go through treatment. The Cuyahoga County program is operated by Moore Counseling and Mediation Services, Inc. through the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services board.

Martina Moore. leader of the Cuyahoga County program, is expected to explain the program to Warren officials during a meeting scheduled to begin after today’s committee meeting that starts at 5 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

Moore Counseling is located in Akron, Elyria, Rocky River and Euclid.

Gysegem said he is not looking to hire Moore to operate the Warren program.

“I believe we already have the personnel capable to do the program,” Gysegem said.

A MAT coordinator would be hired by the court’s probation department, with the city providing between 20 and 50 percent of the cost needed to hire additional probation officers over a three-year period, Gysegem said.

The municipal court currently has two probation officers.

“I’m very confident that once the program is up and running, we will be able to get funding to make it self-sufficient,” the judge said.

The program will not compete with the Trumbull County Drug Court, already being operated by Common Pleas Judge Andrew D. Logan.

“It will complement what is being done,” Gysegem said. “It will not be a specialized docket and it will not necessarily deal with those already convicted of drug crimes.”

This program will try to provide intervention at an earlier period, he said.

“It is more of an immediate response to a crisis,” Gysegem said. “People referred to the program can be in it for six months to one-and-a-half years.”

Warren Law Director Gregory Hicks expressed support for the program’s ideal, but said he wants to learn more details.

“This will be one more tool in the toolbox in the fight against the abuse of opioids in this community,” Hicks said. “Fighting this will take a combination of education, enforcement and treatment.”

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, said the proposed treatment program will address part of Warren’s opiate problem.

“This is a drug problem that did not begin in Warren,” Rucker said. “It migrated into the city.”

Rucker invites Trumbull County commissioners to join the program because she believes the county should share in its cost.

She is concerned people abusing opiates are getting more opportunities for treatment, while those arrested for other drug-related crimes are getting prison time.

“What is being done for those arrested for marijuana and other drugs?” she asked. “Money should be invested to help business create new jobs, so people are less likely to turn to drugs in the first place.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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