Local nurse pushing to get drug users into accountable rehab facilities


As heroin and opioid drug overdose deaths continue to climb, the push to get addicts into rehab is growing.

Robin Leasure, a mental health nurse from Toronto, has made it her personal mission to get as many drug users into accountable rehab facilities as possible.

The message from advocates is that throwing drug users in jail without rehab -- or counting on jail alone -- is only worsening the problem.

"I think it is completely unrealistic to expect that people who are addicted to heroin are going to keep outpatient, probation, and drug and alcohol treatment appointments. It's just totally unrealistic," Steubenville Municipal Court Judge John Mascio said.

Drug addicts left to their own devices fall into cycle of jail, with Mascio estimating outpatient rehab has a 20 percent success rate. For one mother in Toronto, 4 years of trying to control her son's drug habits was too much.

"Because he's 18, I wasn't able to get him put anywhere,” said Carrie Shaffer. “So I used the fact that he took my debit card in order to get him arrested, from him being arrested, that's when I contacted Robin and asked is there any way we can do this with him?"

"The template is I want the prosecutors, other judges to get involved,” Leasure said. “I want to work as a team with them to link addicts to in-treatment facilities instead of incarceration."

Toronto Judge Lisa Ferguson did just that, sending Shaffer's son to the Teen Challenge program in Youngstown. He's been there for a month.

“Two weeks later, he started really thriving,” Shaffer said. “I was able to see him and all his counselors were very happy with how far he had come in that short period of time."

It's a year-long stay at Teen Challenge, partly why the faith-based program boasts an 85 percent success rate. That's Ohio, where last year 3,050 people died from overdoses. In West Virginia, a law passed last year by Senator Ryan Weld allows prosecutors like himself to negotiate a provisional plea.

"And that gives someone the ability to hold the offense over the defendant's head and require them to get treatment before any sort of penalty may be passed down to them," Weld said.

But law enforcement isn't ready to rubber stamp get out of jail free cards.

"...Address the problem of recidivism, you don't want people to come back before you, but there has to be some punitive effect in sentencing," Mascio said.

Drugs like Xanax are becoming popular in addition to the deadly opioid epidemic. It's the drug that Shaffer's son used most recently.

We've confirmed with area school districts that multiple teens have been suspended or expelled over their use. And one prior drug user called Xanax a felony pill, because it cleared his conscience before he would steal cash to support a heroin habit.

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