Bipartisan proposal to keep drug addicts out of jail and getting - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Bipartisan proposal to keep drug addicts out of jail and getting help

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

As 21 News continues to look for stories that offer solutions to our area's opioid crisis - we found an effort in Trumbull County. 
 
Two state Senators are crossing the state looking for support to Senate Bill 3, that would make sure drug addicts get treatment in place of jail time and drug traffickers are determined by the volume of drugs they have on them when they're arrested.

Republican Senator John Eklund of Portage County made a strong statement saying, "Being a drug addict should not be a crime in the State of Ohio.  Period."

Senator Eklund has joined forced with (D) Senator Sean O'Brien in a bi-partisan effort to make sure the unprecedented addiction problem is addressed with help, not jail time.

That means reclassifying some felony drug possession charges to misdemeanors and putting those assessed as drug users immediately into rehab program.

For drug traffickers you could face serious criminal charges strictly by possession of a certain amount of a drug.

"That is to say no need to demonstrate that the drug was sold or that it was packaged or that it was prepared for sale.  But there is a presumption in the bill that says if you're found in possession of a certain amount of these drugs you are by law engaged in trafficking.  So in that sense I think it is a real step forward in terms of getting tougher on traffickers," Senator Eklund said.

The exact amount of drugs you would have to be caught in possession of to be charged with trafficking is a detail that is still being worked out in the draft of the bill.

Senator O'Brien believes Drug Court Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement are the key to fine tuning this proposal.

"These are those who are on the front lines, who understand the problem because they're dealing with it every single day, and they're in the best position to make it the best bill possible," O'Brien said.

If some of this proposal sounds familiar for drug sentencing reform that's because lawmakers have taken what was effective from the failed State Issue 1, and remove the objectionable parts that include the date rape drug and fentanyl.


Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge John Durkin who has been repeatedly honored and recognized for the success of his Mahoning County Drug Court says, "State Issue 1 as divisive as it was generated and stimulated legitimate discussion.  Expanding treatment to those who need it.  It's already been said but Mahoning, Trumbull, Portage and Ashtabula have specialized dockets now (Drug Courts).  We know what we're doing, but there are also many communities, many counties in the state - rural especially  and the treatment might be Narcotics Anonymous or an AA meeting.  They don't have adequate resources to provide detox and those critical steps necessary for those people with a substance use disorder."

When 21 News asked if there are a number of people behind bars for their substance abuse problem Keith Evans who works with Trumbull County's Drug Court says, "There are people who are in prison just because they're addicts.  I'll be honest with you.  And in Trumbull County Drug Court that's the last thing we want to do.  Judge Andrew Logan does not like to send people to prison because they've failed out of drug court.  But ultimately he says you're not going to die on my watch, and that's the last option he has at that point in time.  So yes there are people sitting in prison for drug possession, because they're addicts and we've tried and tried and tried.  We've put them in this treatment program, that treatment program and they still continue to fail."

Judge Durkin says his concern with Senate Bill 3 and reducing a felony drug possession charge to a misdemeanor is that the substance abuse user no longer has a "felony" hanging over their head, and that's motivation in many cases.  

Judge Jeffrey Adler, of the Girard Municipal Drug Court says he shares Judge Durkin's concern, but he also feels the reclassification of felony drug possession to misdemeanors will put a great burden on the Municipal Court.  Adler says, "We will need more resources to treat those people."

Senator O'Brien admits if Senate Bill 3 is eventually successful and becomes law, along with Senator Eklund they will have to look at other funding mechanisms to treat all those who need it.
 

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