Bedford prepares to launch drug court

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BEDFORD — Bedford County will establish its first drug treatment court in early 2024 using the county’s opioid settlement fund, President Judge Travis Livengood announced Tuesday.

In addition to implementing and staffing the drug treatment court, the opioid rehabilitation fund will help hire additional staff for the probation office and correctional facility, purchase additional drug testing equipment, provide transportation for participants and help staff medical providers, he said.

The money will not be used for medical care, Livengood said, adding that participants will be required to apply for government health coverage or obtain private insurance from medical providers.

“The only thing in the public sector that’s part of this accountability is through the probation office and the courts,” Livengood said. “So all the treatment providers, in the private sector, we’re working hand in hand with them to provide treatment.”

Bedford County Commissioner Barry Dallara said the first round of opioid litigation funding has been distributed and the county is now waiting on the second payment.

“The first level is in round numbers, $90,000-$100,000 annually for 10 years,” Dallara said.

As the court ages, partner agencies can sit down each year and look at what’s working with the program, what’s not working, and what needs to be improved or changed, he said.

To successfully complete the program, drug court participants are required to stay sober, attend school, get a job, complete community service, and attend group sessions.

“Providing participants with the best possible chance for rehabilitation, drug treatment courts require a great deal of dedication and coordination among courts, probation, drug treatment providers and community organizations,” Livengood said. “All of these measures support the efforts and activities of the drug treatment court.”

Dr. Peggy Steinbrunner emphasizes the importance of the accountability aspect of the court, noting that it can be difficult to find the motivation to go to a treatment provider when you’re new to the recovery process.

“Behavioral health treatment is like cancer treatment — if you don’t see it, you don’t get the treatment and you don’t get better,” says Steinbrunner. “And you know, we have a revolving door with prison and probation.”

In creating the framework for Bedford’s drug treatment court, Livengood said the county looked at policies from other counties.

“There’s a suggested model for all drug courts that everybody follows; you can tailor those to your needs,” Livengood said. We’re still finalizing our policy, and we’ve gone on two tours of Blair County drug courts.

Drug treatment court will be different from regular court because it’s a “non-adversarial process,” Livengood said.

To enter drug treatment court, the defendant must be accepted by the treatment coordinator and everyone on the treatment team, Livengood said. Sometimes, applicants need the permission of the district attorney.

“There are certain fallacies in application review,” Livengood said. “So this is not for violent criminals; this is not for sex offenders; this is not for ex-offenders. This is for people with substance abuse problems who want to be serious about their recovery.”

The county is still interviewing for a medical coordinator, Livengood said.

If approved for drug treatment court, participants must attend court twice a month to meet with their probation officer and judge in person to review their progress, make multiple weekly visits to their probation officer, and submit to multiple drug tests each week.

“It’s a lot more intensive control,” Livengood said.

Many participants will also have community service, work, journaling and reading assignments to complete, he said.

“The model is about two years, so that’s how long it takes to complete your drug court program,” Livengood said. “There may be more probation on that, but it will be a normal oversight.”

In order to bypass drug treatment court, participants may seek reduced charges, reduced sentences, or whatever else the court deems appropriate.

District Attorney Dwight Diehl said the real benefit of the new court will be its long-term impact on the community.

“This program helps these people get an education, a GED or diploma, housing, employment and staying off drugs,” Diehl said. “The benefit to society and society as a whole is less drug users and abusers, more people who are educated, better educated and have housing and parenting skills and all these people are helping them. So, I think the real benefit here is to combat drug abuse.”

Drug Treatment Court is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the Bedford County Commissioners, Common Pleas Court, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Magisterial District Judge, Probation Office, Bedford County Correctional Facility, Private Solutions. Inc., Hyndman Area Health Center, Center for Community Action, Horizon Behavioral Health and Local Department of Human Services Office.

Glass Staff Secretary Rachel Furr is available at 814-946-7458.

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