LEBANON, Ohio -- Judge Robert Peeler thinks more programs like Warren County’s could help alleviate the national emergency caused by opioid addiction.
Warren County’s Drug Court graduated their first class of seven people Thursday evening, evidence that heroin’s hold isn’t impossible to shake.
The program is unique to the area; participants receive Vivitrol, a form of medication-assisted treatment used to combat opioid addiction. Vivitrol blocks opioid receptors in the brain. It is not an opioid, and it is non-addictive.
Peeler said the program is making a difference, and he will continue running it as a medication-assisted treatment program.
“I think when people see new programs working, they want to try it themselves. It will take time,” Peeler said.
Peeler said 99 percent of the regular drug tests they give participants come back negative.
Of the 2,378 drug tests administered from February 2016 to April 2017, only 1 percent came back positive, according to data from the Warren County Drug Court.
“We're saving money by treating people and getting them back to work, that's a lot different than having someone sit in a cell,” he said.
On Thursday, the first graduating class was officially recognized for completing the 18-month program.
“Most of all they got recognition -- recognition that you did something right this time -- you are successful in what you've done. That's something they've not heard a lot over the past few years,” Peeler said.
Eric Yoshimura, who used to have a substance use disorder, spoke at Thursday’s ceremony.
“I've made it so far in my recovery and what I'm doing now, and I want them to see that I was in the same position they are now and they have endless opportunities,” Yoshimura said.
Yoshimura, who now works for the makers of Vivitrol, said he thinks the program could be a model for other areas of the country.
“if you look at the results … it proves that what they're doing at Warren County is successful,” he said.
But, like a lot of stories about opioid addiction, there are bumps in the road.
Peeler said eight people should have graduated last night. One student, who worked out of the courtroom for the last time with his charges dismissed, overdosed within 24 hours.
So as much as their graduation is the end of a journey, it is also the start of one. Maybe an even more difficult one.