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Former district attorney leads drug treatment court in Schuylkill County

Written by Peter E. Bortner/The Republican-Herald | Jul 11, 2018 3:30 PM
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Newsrooms across the commonwealth have spent years documenting the opioid crisis in their own communities. But now, in the special project State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis, we are marshalling resources to spotlight what Pennsylvanians are doing to try to reverse the soaring number of overdose deaths.

WITF is releasing more than 60 stories, videos and photos throughout July. This week, you will find stories about police intervention, courts and treatment.

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(Pottsville) -- Seeking another way to combat the opioid crisis and other forms of drug addiction, officials in Schuylkill County started the Drug Treatment Court in January 2017 using a carrot-and-stick approach to help participants beat their addictions.

Judge James P. Goodman, a former district attorney in the county, helped develop the court and presides over its weekly session each Thursday morning.

Goodman runs each session with less formality than a traditional court proceeding in an effort to make participants more comfortable and allow more participation.

People entering the 14-month program begin with inpatient and outpatient treatment. After they complete the inpatient treatment, they begin to attend the weekly court sessions, often continuing with outpatient treatment and weekly counseling sessions.

They must also submit to random drug testing and home visits, meet with probation officers and comply with directives from the court and those officers.

Each weekly court session features participants reading from their mandatory essays about a particular topic and how the Drug Court program has affected their views of a chosen aspect of the program.

Sessions also include meting out sanctions of varying severity for participants who have violated program rules and, beginning recently, having raffle-type drawings for small prizes for those who have complied with the rules during the week.

Participants often credit the program with saving their lives, which most recognize have been in a downward spiral.

As they move through the program, participants do not have to come to court every week.

No one has yet to complete the program, but some are beginning to get close. This year, the first graduates should be finishing it, according to authorities. With that completion will come dismissal of the charges against them  

So far, five participants have been expelled from the program. All have been sentenced to state prison time.

Goodman told participants at a recent session that the people in it who get in trouble generally do so for the same reason.

"The common theme is that they're not honest," he said. "You have to face the consequences. If you don't they're going to be a lot worse."

Lynn Holden, a probation officer who also serves as the treatment court coordinator, recently said that 32 people are in the program, and more are scheduled to be added.

Holden said the court is going well, with the successful participants buying into the idea early.

"Phase One is the most crucial," she said.

Chief Probation Officer Neil Stefanisko said the participants hold the keys to their own success.

"(They are) dedicated and want to succeed," he said. "The longer they're in the program, the easier it is for them to succeed."

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