In our first edition of this column released last month, we discussed that we would dig into the past, present, and future of Kentucky’s substance abuse epidemic. Then came COVID-19, and everything changed. Our daily lives changed, but it also significantly impacted the local justice system, especially the ability of courts to offer sobriety assistance to hundreds of defendants suffering from addiction.
In mid-March of this year, judicial centers across Kentucky were all but closed by the Kentucky Supreme Court. Pressure mounted on police and judges across the Commonwealth to not arrest or to release from incarceration as many offenders as possible. Governor Beshear made the decision to utilize his authority to shorten or end the prison sentences of dozens of inmates from Calloway County alone; a process that is still ongoing. All efforts quickly focused on reducing incarceration numbers in order to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 at a jail. But what about public health and safety? Ninety six percent (96%) of Circuit Court criminal actions are rooted in drug addiction. With resources such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery (the core support services for addiction) unavailable, would there be a crisis on our hands?
If support was unavailable, a crisis was almost a certainty. With hundreds of individuals in Calloway County alone relying on addiction support services that were no longer available due to social distancing, etc., where would these people turn? As is often the case when difficulty strikes, “a few good men (and women)” stepped up and made things happen.
In January of 2016, I was happy to reach out and partner with an organization that had been working with those that suffer from addiction and, together, began the first court-coordinated private intensive outpatient addiction treatment program in Kentucky. Riverwoods Recovery, originally based out of Riverwoods Church, agreed to work with the local court system to provide organized outpatient care for individuals who suffered with addiction. A separate similar program, Serenity Recovery, came to life a few years later. As of last summer, between these two programs, approximately 200 people referred by my court alone participate in these programs at any given time.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Riverwoods and Serenity Recovery, and others in the addiction support community, stepped up to help ensure those who needed support received it. Immediately, group and individual support meetings began being held virtually. Drug testing protocols were adjusted to conform to social distancing. Almost all of the area volunteer support groups upped their game and learned how to provide sobriety support in the new reality of COVID-19. While many of the medical-based support services were unavailable due to COVID-19 fears, this army of volunteers that came in many forms took on the yoke of sobriety support because they knew that, without their commitment, hundreds would be in crisis and our community would be negatively affected in many ways: increased crime, decreased safety, decreased work force, increased abuse and neglect.
If you ask someone who suffers from addiction, almost all will tell you that, while they prefer to receive support services in person, they may not have been able to maintain sobriety if it had not been for the dedication of dozens of people to improvise, adapt and overcome. To the unsung heroes who remain mostly unnamed because of the anonymity that accompanies addiction support, some of us know who you are. And, on behalf of a now aware, and always grateful community, thank you from the bottom of our hearts and God bless each of you.
If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, help is now available. You may reach the programs mentioned in this article, at the following: Riverwoods: 270-252-7235; Serenity: 270-227-2650.
I look forward to seeing you next time At the Corner of Justice & Grace, until then Godspeed.
Jamie Jameson is the Chief Judge for Kentucky’s 42nd Circuit Court which includes Calloway & Marshall counties. Judge Jameson serves as Purchase Region representative to the Ky. Circuit Judge’s Association Legislative Committee, a member of that Association’s Education Committee, and as member of the Kentucky Judges’ Continuing Judicial Education Committee.