Courts Study, Prep for Cocaine, Meth Reemergence
By Csaba Sukosd | December 12, 2019
After years of contending with an opiate crisis that's taken the lives of thousands of Ohioans, judges across the state are dealing with an emerging threat that some experts fear could be worse.
At the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association Winter Conference, the jurists took part in a session titled, "The Reemergence of Cocaine and Methamphetamine Use in the 21st Century." During the presentation, the judges learned about the history, science, and sudden rise of stimulants while the number of opioid overdoses have plateaued and regressed throughout Ohio.
"I have as many cocaine and meth cases as I had heroin when I first started. Just in the last few months, it's increased a lot," said Summit County Common Pleas Judge Susan Baker Ross.
That spike has led to more deaths due to stimulants being laced with opioids. In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that analyzed fatal overdoses in 2017, Ohio had the second-highest mortality rate in cases with cocaine, and the largest spike in meth fatalities from the year before at 130%.
"With fentanyl now in the equation, death is more likely with use," said Clermont County Common Pleas Judge Victor Haddad. "So, we want to try to do everything we can to help them rehabilitate and overcome."
Ohio is at the forefront of the fight nationally with more than 250 specialized dockets structured to address issues with substance use. In those programs, the state's courts include staff or partners who are in long-term recovery. They provide a perspective and a position that can bridge gaps between a court and its program participants to support sustained sobriety. In some cases, those who've battled substance issues are judges.
"I've been there. I've recovered," said Judge Baker Ross, who's been 30 years sober since an operating a vehicle under the influence conviction when she was a first-year law student. "I had a motivation. I had something I was working toward, and I just want to try and help the people who come before me to develop some idea of why their life is important."
After years of cultivating proven methods to treat opioid addiction, which includes medication assisted treatment, the courts have to recalibrate how to handle stimulants. Currently, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved medications to treat cocaine or meth problems.
Evidence-based practices, such as access and transportation to treatment, counseling, and trauma-informed treatment, remain foundational among courts for creating a path to sustained sobriety for its participants. To build on those pillars, judges always seek new and promising approaches to share among peers in order to help those struggling.
"I cannot think of any more noble and courageous way than for the judiciary to reach out to the people who are in the greatest need," said Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary Wiseman.