On Thursday, I will go before Miami-Dade County commissioners to ask them to fund case managers for the Adult Criminal Drug Court, where I have presided as the “Drug Court Judge” for the past four years. Drug courts save lives and save the community money. That’s why the federal government stepped up to the plate last year and allocated more than $100 million for drug courts nationwide. The county must do its part, as well.
Recently, there has been a lot of media coverage about the heroin epidemic afflicting Florida and the nation. So it’s no surprise that 35 percent of people in my drug court are addicted to heroin. County Commissioners should know what it feels like to experience the human tragedy of this epidemic on a daily basis in my courtroom. That would persuade them to find case management for the drug court.
Who are these people addicted to heroin? Many of them began using opiates to manage pain and were overprescribed the drug by careless medical professionals. When the opiate prescription pill mills dried up, they turned to heroin, a cheap, plentiful alternative. Most of them are between18 and 30 with high school degrees. Many have college and/or professional degrees. Some have young children. The majority have loving families. Despite this, their addiction, in many cases, has rendered them homeless and alienated from their families.
With the increase in heroin addiction, the waiting lists for treatment are long, which means many of them are in jail awaiting treatment. All of them tell me stories of overdosing, losing friends and the impossibility of getting into detoxification centers and off of heroin. They live in communities of addicts who are seeking treatment but are stymied by the lack of resources and the fragmented resources in our community.
To respond to this problem, the Drug Court, in partnership with Jackson Health Services, applied for and recently received a grant for $1.3 million to set up an outpatient detoxification facility with psychiatrists, a caseworker and the court providing oversight of treatment and suboxone assisted detoxification and maintenance.
A difficult piece of this tragedy is the families’ pain. Their stories are similar, but they continue to leave everyone in the courtroom teary-eyed and overwhelmed. Families’ pain, exhaustion, tears and helplessness are almost too much to bear. I’ve had parents get down on their knees in the courtroom begging a child to get well. And when a child or loved one overdoses, we listen to the grief of the bereaved family members, as well.
There is hope. Our Drug Court has been successful in helping opiate addicts begin a solid path to recovery. Why? Because of the program’s holistic approach to addiction; our collaborative partnership with the Miami-Dade County treatment facility and other public treatment facilities; our use of medication-assisted treatment; and our integrated and family-centered approach to recovery.
In addition, our frequent monitoring of the people in Drug Court and the sanctions imposed for non-compliance assist in treatment compliance. This work is labor intensive and emotionally taxing. It cannot be successfully carried out without case managers, who work tirelessly to motivate and assist addicts and their families recover their lives.
Now more than ever, our court needs the expertise and dedication of case managers to help addicts stay out of jail, avoid felony convictions and live long enough to lead sober, fulfilling lives. We in the Miami-Dade County Criminal Drug Court are doing an excellent job in the face of a tenacious and deadly epidemic, especially our case managers. I beg the County Commission to fulfill its obligation to the community.
Jeri Beth Cohen is a judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court, Criminal Division.