Cuyahoga County Recovery Court gives new perspective on drug abuse epidemic

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jun 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-15 18:10:35-04

Ohio’s heroin epidemic is providing new challenges to the Cuyahoga County Recovery Court, which takes holistic approach to treating addiction, trauma and mental health. 

Judge Joan Synenberg heads a specialized drug court docket that is the first of its kind in the state of Ohio. 

Offenders come before Judge Synenberg and her team of legal and addiction specialists weekly to assess their progress and compliance with the program. 

Synenberg told that addiction and its concurrent issues need to be treated as a disease. 

“People are really suffering, nobody wants this life,” Synenberg said. “Believe me, you have good people with a bad disease.” 

She said one of her court's biggest challenges is overcoming the stigmas surrounding drug abuse.

“If someone has a disease and they feel humiliated to get treated for it — the disease is not going to go away,” she explained.  

Non-compliant offenders addressed the court, explaining their issues over the last week. 

Sanctions can range anywhere from writing assignments to jail time, but Synenberg said the latter is a last resort.

Complaint participants sit in the jury box, dubbed the “honor box,” and offer their words of encouragement to their peers. 

“There’s nothing more incredible than hearing their success stories,” Synenberg said. “We believe that a judge can sit on the bench and say ‘I care what happens to you. I’m invested in your wellness.’”

Recovery Court began in January 2015 and according to a Case Western Reserve University study, the compliance rate of those who come before Judge Synenberg has been exceptionally high.