WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to the Senate Floor last night to highlight the excellent work Ohio drug courts have been doing to support Americans struggling with addiction. Brown said these types of programs enhance treatment, increase collaboration in the community, and save taxpayers money. Brown urged his colleagues in Congress to come together in a bipartisan way to support and expand these types of programs. Brown recently introduced legislation with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the Collectively Achieving Recovery and Employment (CARE) Act, that would help bring together addiction treatment and workforce training efforts to better help communities fight addiction, cut down on repeat offenses, and help participants get jobs.
Download production-quality video of Senator Brown’s floor speech HERE.
Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:
Everyone in this chamber knows how bad the opioid epidemic is. In Ohio, based on the averages, eleven people will die today of a drug overdose.
Last month at the Cleveland City Club, I called for a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained public health campaign to fight addiction through education and prevention, treatment, and recovery.
We know from history that we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis.
I’ve met with law enforcement officers all across Ohio. They’re shouldering an incredible burden, and they all say the same thing.
They need resources to fight this – that’s why I’ve joined Senator Portman and a bipartisan group of our colleagues on the POWER Act, to get local and state law enforcement the high-tech tools they need to effectively screen for dangerous opioids like Fentanyl.
But we also know from history that those enforcement tools are just one piece of this fight – we need a comprehensive approach, and that means recognizing how important treatment and rehabilitation are.
We can’t write off the thousands of Ohioans struggling with addiction. We can’t write off entire communities.
That’s where drug courts come in. May is National Drug Court Month.
These courts are partnerships between local law enforcement and treatment providers. They’re often spearheaded by judges, who see the same people back in their courtrooms over and over again for drug offenses.
These judges realized that traditional court proceedings weren’t working – they weren’t curing people’s addiction. Fines and jail time can’t cure a medical condition.
So judges set up these special courts, where participants agree to enter treatment programs and are strictly supervised by law enforcement. If they successfully complete the program, instead of heading to prison, they hold a graduation ceremony.
We’ve seen this model work successfully for veterans. There are hundreds of these courts across the country, which are built around counseling and treatment.
Veterans who get into trouble with law often face unique issues, like PTSD.
My office recently visited the first Federal Veterans Court the Southern District of Ohio, in Dayton, and saw the difference it’s making in the lives of these men and women who served our country. The court was created by Judge Michael Newman, with the support of Chief Judge Edmund Sargus.
It works with the VA to help address the issues veterans are struggling with. My staff met with Page Layman, a Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator, who helps participants in the program. He talked about how one of the participants in the court had limited transportation options and lived in a rural area, so Mr. Layman drove to meet him at his local library.
Judge Newman reports that 49 veterans have graduated from the program, with their charges dropped, and are now leading healthier lives.
We have the same opportunity with drug courts.
The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services evaluates and studies these courts. They found drug courts enhance treatment, increase collaboration in the community, and save taxpayers money.
My staff and I have met with judges across Ohio who are helping people break the cycle of drug use and crime.
Earlier this year I talked with Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Fred Moses while he was in town as a State of the Union guest of Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio. He started an innovative drug court program just outside Chillicothe, Ohio in 2012.
As a judge, he saw the opioid epidemic coming years before most folks in Washington, and started the first medication-assisted drug court program certified in Ohio.
Five years later, his drug court programs are reuniting families, cutting down on repeat offenses, and helping participants get jobs.
He and his staff are improving the lives of people in Southeast Ohio and serving as a model for other drug courts throughout the state and country.
Since the program began, more than 30 other judges have visited Hocking County to learn more about its success.
And now we are seeing similar success all over Ohio.
Tuscarawas County has two drug courts – COBRA, in the Common Pleas Court, and the New Philadelphia Municipal Recovery Court.
Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos runs the COBRA Court, which held its 125th graduation ceremony last week.
One graduate said:
“When I couldn’t get clean, you helped me get clean. When I couldn’t set boundaries, you set them for me. You guys believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.
“My daughter has her mamma back. A healthy mom, hard-working, motivated, goal-oriented mom, who smiles again and is grateful in all she does.
“By this program shaping my future, it has also shaped hers.”
The Recovery Court in New Philadelphia is run by Judge Nanette DeGarmo VonAllman.
She hears so many stories like that one.
She told the Times Reporter, “We try to give them and their families hope: that treatment works and people do recover.”
Programs all over Ohio and all over the country are offering families that hope.
Up in Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Drug Court under Judge David Matia has graduated more than 300 people. Both that court and the Cleveland Municipal Drug Court operate under the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Greater Drug Court umbrella, named for my former colleague.
In Marion, Ohio, Common Pleas Court Judge Jim Slagle held a ceremony for eight graduates at the end of last month.
One of the women who spoke, Jennifer, talked about her granddaughter. She said of the drug court, “The most challenging part was admitting I needed this,” but that when she found out her granddaughter was being placed in foster care, “I knew I had to do something. I needed to get myself together, I had to do it for her.”
Jennifer has now been clean for more than two years, and has custody over her one-and-a-half year-old granddaughter.
These are the kinds of success stories we hear all across our state and around the country.
If we’re successful in the fight against addiction, hundreds of thousands fewer Americans will use opioids.
But we will also have hundreds of thousands more who have used opioids, but whose lives are not lost or ruined. They’re going to be living with and managing their addiction.
That’s why we need to expand and build on these innovative approaches.
I’m also working with my Republican colleague Senator Capito, of West Virginia, on bipartisan legislation – the CARE Act – to combine existing resources from the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services to fund combined addiction treatment and workforce training efforts.
I hear the same thing from Mayors from New Philadelphia and Middletown and Chillicothe and Piqua: employers can’t fill openings because workers can’t pass drug tests.
And Ohioans struggling with addiction – even those who have completed successful programs like these drug courts – can’t find a job.
Our bill will help those Americans continue their recovery with good jobs that provide stability.
We need to support those Americans, and the communities where they live. And we need to support the innovative, compassionate judges and law enforcement professionals and treatment experts who are partnering to get people out of jail cells and into treatment.
I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the CARE Act, and in finding ways to support successful drug court programs around the country.