MOUNT VERNON — As drug use has increased in the area over the last several years, the standard operating procedures of arrest, probation and/or jail time don’t properly combat the problem of addictions for many people. So the state of Ohio and the counties within — including Knox County — have taken different steps that address addiction where people can get clean and have a better chance to stay that way.

Knox County Common Pleas Court and Mount Vernon Municipal Court have recently created drug court alternatives that help drug offenders and addiction and both courts have found recent successes within their programs.

The municipal court version, called MERIT, has been in existence for more than three years and has been exceeding expectations and the common pleas court version, labeled ARMOR, was just certified and its first class of participants have just recently reached the first 100 days of the program.

Both courts are designed as an alternative to jail for drug offenders where the participants become part of a supportive and positive group that are held accountable by not only treatment and counseling providers, probation departments and judges — but also each other. Each person has to submit to regular drug testing and gets counseling and support from health care professionals, among others.

Each of the programs has a multi-phase structure that starts with Phase 0 or 1 and then it progresses as high as Phase 4 — and then to graduation. By the time participants graduate, they have turned their lives around and gotten past the drug problems that put them there in the first place.

MERIT Court has been in service for longer than the Common Pleas version and therefore has more success stories and more graduates thus far.

According to MERIT Court Probation Officer Joel Carter, the success rate and community acceptance have both increased as the program has progressed.

“We currently have a 100 percent success rate in regards to no re-offenses with graduates,” Carter said. “We have an 80 percent success rate with regards to relapse with participants in the program in all phases and for Phases 3 and 4, we are at a 95 percent success rate.”

Judge John Thatcher oversees MERIT Court and also sees positive outcomes.

“The people in MERIT Court who really buy into the program are having much more success in recovery than people who are on regular probation,” Thatcher said. “I think this is due to the way the MERIT Court participants go through the program together and support each other.”

The goal in both courts is to help the participants stay away from drugs and get back to structure, whether with family or with working. Both of the drug courts have seen employment rates rise for their participants.

In the ARMOR program where Judge Richard D. Wetzel presides, there are currently six active participants and two have already obtained full-time employment with two more planning on getting additional job training and career counseling supplied by the court.

According to Carter, MERIT Court is gaining support from not only the community, but also from employers, who are hiring participants in his court also.

“The general vibe I get from the community is positive,” Carter said. “People are supporting the MERIT Court. There are a lot of people out there that don’t know about our program but slowly we are reaching people. I have spoken with both employers and HR personnel that are very supportive of our efforts and involvement.”

The community support and involvement has also reached ARMOR Court.

According to Wetzel, he believes that “the local county agencies which serve the community are the keys to the success of any effort to reduce drug abuse, reduce repeat crime and reduce chronic unemployment and generational poverty.”

Both judges hope to see continued progress of their respective drug courts.

Wetzel said that he “is grateful for all of the community support to get the (ARMOR) program started and for the hard work of his Probation Department and the Treatment Team members.”

Thatcher had a similar sentiment.

“I believe that MERIT Court is a life-changing experience for the graduates that will result in them leading much happier and fulfilling lives without drugs. That’s my hope.”

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John Wareham: 740-397-5333 or john.wareham@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews