Indiana’s top judge said recently that it’s time for an attitude change about substance-use disorder.

“We were tough on drugs, but now we need to be smart. It’s more important to be smart,” said Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush. “Addiction is a disease. I truly believe addiction is a disease.”

Rush spoke in Bloomington at the third annual South Central Opioid Summit. She co-chairs the National Judicial Opioid Task Force, created in 2017.

Rush said increases since 2016 in “problem-solving courts” — from 81 to 112 — reflect the progress Indiana is making.

Indiana’s four northeast-corner counties are playing a big part in that progress.

Noble and LaGrange counties operate drug courts that aim toward recovery and encouragement, rather than punishment.

Noble and DeKalb counties offer veterans courts that focus on helping military veterans who become involved in the criminal justice system.

Noble County served as a pioneer, starting its drug court in 2006 and its veterans court in 2016.

On consecutive days in late August, the LaGrange County Drug Court and DeKalb County Veterans Court celebrated their first graduates with special ceremonies.

LaGrange County Superior Court Judge Lisa Bowen-Slaven began working on the county’s drug court four years ago. It aims to help nonviolent offenders who have histories of drug and alcohol addictions.

It takes at least two years to graduate from LaGrange County’s program. Along the way, participants undergo more than 100 drug screens, paying a fee for each test. They must have or find a job to be in the program and pay a monthly drug court fee.

At the ceremony, graduates described how the drug court’s strict program, rigorous testing and nearly constant oversight helped them finally take control of their addictions and their lives.

Gradaute Eli Yutzy received a special award for passing all 185 drug screens he took over two years.

“It took drug court to get me clean long enough where I could get to a better way of thinking on my own,” he said. “I don’t think I could have done it without drug court. I knew I’m never going to use again.”

Noble Circuit Judge Michael Kramer founded the Noble County Drug Court.

“When I first heard about drug courts 35 years ago, I thought it was an easy way out for people who really get into serious trouble,” Kramer said. “But having been involved with it and seeing it, it really isn’t the easy way out.”

Noble County Veterans Court began in April 2015. It helps veterans with substance-control issues, mental-health issues, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, anxiety, anger problems or major brain injuries that have brought them into the criminal justice system

Veterans courts provide the veterans with mentors to help them along the road to recovery. Noble County also accepts veterans from counties that do not have veterans courts.

DeKalb County Veterans Treatment Court, founded by DeKalb Circuit Judge Kurt Grimm, began serving veterans in March 2018. It recently celebrated its first two graduates, presenting them with dismissals of their criminal charges.

Veterans Court participants agree to complete a substance-abuse and/or mental health treatment program, remain alcohol- and drug-free, meet with a veteran mentor and complete other program requirements.

Earlier this year, Grimm reported that the success rate of Veterans Court is “almost perfect, which really sends a strong message about different ways of dealing with addictions issues.”

A way that is smarter, and that is paying dividends by turning out productive members of our communities.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.

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