Walworth County officials hope drug court for heroin addicts will start in June

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Andrea Anderson
Friday, January 24, 2014

ELKHORN — Sgt. Jeff Patek knows heroin addicts can turn around their lives.

He's seen them do it.

For the past five years, he's been a member of the Walworth County Drug Unit and has seen heroin addicts get clean and succeed, he said.

Patek recalled one addict who turned his life around, landed a full-time job at a car dealership and made his children a priority.

“You first see the person, and they can't focus on you. And you see them six months later, and they're clean,” Patek said. “Whereas before they wouldn't spend money on their kids for Christmas, and (now) this person spends $600 for their kids.”

Patek was among those attending a Friday meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to continue planning for a drug treatment court.

“(For) a lot of them, all they need is that little push,” Patek said. “They're ready to get clean, and all they need is that push to go, 'OK, it's time for me to get clean.'”

Patek said addicts  often are looking for someone to talk to and support them. He and fellow deputies have fulfilled that role, but the heroin problem is growing in Walworth County, and Patek believes a drug treatment court would help deputies expand their reach and help more addicts stop using.

At the meeting, county officials discussed the details of the drug treatment court that could start as early as June. The court will be funded by a $157,609 recurring grant from the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

The goal of treatment courts is to reduce recidivism.

Judge David Reddy, who is leading the efforts to create the drug court and who will oversee it, guided an hour long brainstorming session on who would qualify for the program, how it would work, and when it would start.

Reddy stressed that all the ideas mentioned at the meeting are preliminary.  A steering committee will be formed to create a program plan and handbook that will be presented to several committees and then to the Walworth County Board for approval.

County Administrator David Bretl saw no problem with the projected timeline.

The drug court is being modeled on the county's OWI Court that began in October 2011.

Defendants in OWI Court learn how to leave their destructive lifestyles behind and start fresh through bi-weekly meetings, random drug and alcohol testing and individual counseling, said Katie Behl, treatment court coordinator. The hope is they get tools and coping mechanisms to keep them out of the legal system.

At the meeting, officials came to the general consensus that the drug court program should:

-- Be for Walworth County residents charged with possession of heroin

-- Require participants to spend 30 to 60 days in jail for detox

-- Consist of three, 16-week phases with six months of aftercare

-- Have mandatory bi-weekly meetings for participants

-- Have random drug and alcohol tests at least once a week, if not three times a week

-- Require participants to be drug free for a minimum of 90 days before moving to the next phase

A potential incentive for defendants to participate is to not have felony drug convictions on their records at the completion of the program.

Walworth County District Attorney Dan Necci suggested the program initially be open to 10 to 15 defendants.

The drug court would fit with a multiprong, anti-heroin initiative Necci has planned for 2014. Necci wants to educate the community about the dangers of heroin and reduce the number of heroin offenses. He says the county, state and nation are facing a heroin “epidemic.”

Twenty-two county residents were charged with possession of heroin, Behl said.

That number is only going up, Necci said.

He said the goal is to reach heroin users, show them drug court is a viable option and let the success stories spread by word of mouth to attract more addicts.

“We're not going to get 22 all the time,” Necci said. “The hope is you get a handful and see some success.”

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