Stabenow visits Esky, talks addiction programs

Clarissa Kell | Daily Press Senator Debbie Stabenow discussed Delta County’s drug court and Escanaba Public Safety’s Angel Program in the Delta County District Courtroom Friday. Sitting around the table are, clockwise from left, Phil Strom, Delta County administrator; Theresa Nelson, Delta County commissioner; Lt. John Gudwer, EPSD; Robert Lamarche, director of EPSD; District Court Judge Steven Parks; Emily Desalvo, district court administrator and magistrate; Liza Plourde, from the Delta County Jail; Jay Gage, Stabenow’s regional manager for the U.P.; Stabenow; and David Rivard, Delta County commissioner.

ESCANABA — Delta County’s continuous effort to combat the opioid crisis locally was recognized by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Friday morning.

Stabenow visited Delta County as part of her series of health care “check-in” visits across the state. Her “check-in” visits include her meeting with patients, providers and other stakeholders in various communities throughout Michigan to hear first-hand about their challenges and needs.

Delta County’s drug court program was recognized for its team effort in helping high risk, high needs people with addictions break their drug habits rather than sending them to jail or prison, which could contribute to a cycle of crime.

“The drug court here is so impressive — the work that’s being done and the coordination with the community and law enforcement and courts and mental health and addiction treatment services. It’s just, it’s very special the way people have come together here (in) Escanaba. That’s why I wanted to come and hear what was happening and how I could be of help,” Stabenow said.

District Court Judge Steven Parks spearheaded the effort of bringing the drug court program to Delta County. Since it’s inception in 2016, the program has seen six graduations with four more scheduled for June.

“We’re happy (Stabenow) is recognizing drug courts as a useful tool to address serious drug addiction. So we’re happy to show her our program,” Parks said.

The specialized treatment court addresses the root of many crimes — drug addiction — so those with addictions can learn to live without drugs and not re-offend, thus stopping the chain of crimes that often accompanies drug abuse.

“The process is incredibly gratifying for those of us who are involved because we see them typically at the height of their problem. They’ve just committed a crime of some sort, and then we spend — our program is 15 to 24 months. By the time they graduate we see the old self reemerge. We see them for who they once were. It’s amazing work to see that transformation,” Parks said.

A misconception about the 15- to 24-month program is that it is a “get out of jail free” card. Parks explained individuals who are allowed to participate are still sentenced for their crimes, so if they are discharged without completing the program they go to jail or prison to complete their sentencing.

He added, with state regulations, all participants — even those who are discharged early — evaluate the program. He said despite being discharged and sent to jail or prison, when those individuals were given an evaluation on the program they expressed how the program still helped them.

“If you talk to any of our graduates … I’m certain all or most of them would tell you that it saved their lives,” Parks said.

Escanaba Public Safety’s Angel Program, which was the first in Michigan, was also discussed. The local Angel Program is comprised of community volunteers called “angels” who provide transportation to people with drug addictions who are willing to participate in an intensive recovery program without fear of being arrested.

The drug court program is paid through grants, while the Angel Program is funded through donations.

The drug court program is actually set up to be a hybrid program to include those with alcoholism. Parks said there is a hope to expand the program in 2020 to include alcoholism if more resources become available.

Stabenow discussed a federal effort that she is pushing to create funding for quality mental health and addiction treatment services in the community.

“I got a federal bill, it’s bipartisan, it’s been introduced in the House and the Senate, and I’m trying to get this passed that would provide significantly more funding for Michigan to be able to provide treatment. Because right now, what we don’t have are the treatment services locally,” she said.

The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act aims to renew and expand funding for certified community behavior health clinics.

Stabenow said she plans on following up with Delta County’s programs to see if she can find more grants for them to apply for and to prepare them when her bill hopefully passes for the federal community mental health and addiction treatment program.

“There are some grant funds for opioid treatment that have been put into the current budget. I am going to see if there’s anything there that the community can be applying for that they haven’t applied for,” she said.

Delta County Administrator Phil Strom said it was really encouraging to have Stabenow recognize the efforts of the drug court.

“I’m hoping our other federal representatives and our state administration will make sure that Michigan supports the Excellence in Mental Health Act,” he said.

After the event in Delta County, Stabenow did another “check-in” with the Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center in Gwinn. Wrapping up her time in the U.P., Stabenow is the keynote speaker at Northern Michigan University’s graduation today.