LEBANON, Ohio -- Most of the people who enter Warren County Drug Court, a medication-assisted treatment program for people who have been arrested on non-violent felony drug charges, come out sober on the other side, according to presiding Judge Robert Peeler.
"I have the privilege of seeing people start and go through the program, and the change is remarkable," he said Monday. "They just clean up their act. They come in, they're dressed nice; they take care of themselves. They're getting their kids back."
Warren County Drug Court's five-phase, 18-month treatment program pairs drug users with healthcare providers and uses regular drug tests alongside Vivitrol, a medication which can help tamp down addiction by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, to help them stay sober and accountable. If they complete their treatment successfully, the charges that brought them to the court can be dismissed and the corresponding records can be sealed.
Peeler said 99 percent of participants' drug tests come back negative -- a rate so high it surprised even him.
"At first, I thought, 'Is this right?'" he said. "They went back and checked it to make sure everything was accurate, and it is."
At least 70 percent of participants are on pace to make it to graduation, he said.
One of the keys, according to the judge, is for him and other authority figures to be encouraging toward the people who are working through the program.
"They haven't heard very much about what they've done right in a long time, and they need to hear that," he said. "When they're doing things rights and they're working hard, they need somebody to encourage them. They need somebody to say, 'You're doing a good job.'"
Eric Yoshimura, one of the program's very first graduates, said his life is changed for the better because of it. He now works at Alkermes Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Vivitrol, and attends the court sessions to help others.
"If you work the program and do the process, then it works," Yoshimura said. "I was in the same spot they were. I needed help, and now I'm the one helping them."