An East Liverpool judge is focused on finding the long-term solution to overcoming addiction. With the help of a $55,000 grant, a board of advisors and community members, Judge Melissa Byers-Emmerling has launched the Addiction Recovery Court.
The opioid epidemic has hit East Liverpool and surrounding communities hard over the last several years.
Sixteen months ago, Byers-Emmerling initiated a Vivitrol shot program at the Columbiana County Jail. It prevents people from getting high from alcohol or opioids for 30 days after being released.
Now, the Addiction Recovery Court — also known as S.O.S. (Self-control + Oversight = Sobriety) Recovery Court — is aiming to help people get sober and stay sober.
“We’re looking for long-term sobriety. We’re looking for not having these individuals repeatedly come back into the system,” Byers-Emmerling said.
She’s calling it a dream come true. East Liverpool Municipal Court’s Addiction Recovery Court was up and running by January.
The goal is to provide people with the resources to get sober from drugs and alcohol, and turn them into productive citizens long-term.
When Columbiana County residents are convicted of first- or second-degree misdemeanor, non-violent drug offenses, she gives them the option to accept the program and be given a lesser jail sentence. If they don’t accept the program, they’ll be given any or all of that jail sentence.
“This program is a very strict, tough, one-year program and then the probation officers will monitor them for up to two years afterward,” Byers-Emmerling said.
There are weekly visits with a judge, along with counseling and peer support.
There are five different phases to help people with housing, employment, school and mental illness. Participants are able to get a GED if they need one and there are classes for things like gardening, art, cooking and exercise.
“We know that, especially if you take away the addiction, there’s a large time void and we want to have them do productive things,” Byers-Emmerling said.
A big part of this program is helping people find activities to get involved in.
“So when they’re depressed or when they feel like they are going to use, they have something to fill that time. Something that they can go to, whether it be walking or going to the gym,” Byers-Emmerling said.
She’s seen too many families affected by the opioid crisis and said it’s time for real change.
“A lot of these young people I have seen in court, I have talked to. I am a part of this community. I know their family and I see a life wasted, wherein if we could just get them through whatever is the reason why they became addicted, why they are struggling, why they are relapsing, that’s a life you can save.”
If the participants don’t comply with the different phases of the program, they may be sentenced to
jail and terminated from the program.
The court is 100 percent funded by probationers’ fees and grants.