Crawford County officials putting substance abuse and social issues in the cross hairs
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Crawford County officials are putting all their resources on the table to address an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, child neglect, and mental health issues.
From youth to adults, staff working for the Crawford County Court system are dealing with some huge problems due to the area’s poverty and mental health issues.
Julie A. McDonald, the court administrator for Crawford County, said case workers are providing education on anger management and substance abuse to juveniles who are under the direction of the courts. Mentors also take them on canoe trips, college visits, coordinate community service projects, offer after school weight lifting and extracurricular activities.
Family and home issues can impede the progress court officials are making.
“We’re really trying to address those issues intensively,” McDonald said. “We can pull the kids out and fix the kid all day long, but if we’re putting back in with that dysfunctional environment and the parents are refusing to change, it’s a waste.”
If some cases, case workers are dealing with youth that have perpetuated criminal sexual conduct crimes or are a risk of being assaultive, suicidal, and a risk for self-harm. That can result in having the children put in a secured placement facility, which can cost up to $500 per day. That jacks up the cost the county pays from its childcare fund.
“We’re doing what we can to keep costs down,” McDonald said. “We’re really emphasizing community based treatment where appropriate, but some of these cases it’s just beyond our control.”
McDonald said much planning would need to take place to establish a drug and mental health court to serve Crawford County and neighboring counties.
“It’s huge process,” she said. “If we started a drug court, we would have to have the community resources to support that court.”
In addition with providing funding, there would be the need to access drug testing, intensive treatment, and have available courtrooms and judges.
“There has to be that framework there,” McDonald said.
Dave Stephenson, the chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, said all county departments and agencies must present a united front to address drug use.
Stephenson pointed to statistics from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office annual report, which showed a spike in drug related crimes. Traffic accidents for driving under the influence of drugs increased from 456 in 2015 to 654 in 2016. Dangerous drugs complaints increased from 30 to 63 in that same time period. Driving violations for people using drugs hiked from 38 to 51 complaints. And family offenses for abuse and neglect rose from 251 to 274 complaints.
“We as a society need to start addressing the issues and get to the bottom of these issues or they’re just going to be eating us alive,” Stephenson said.
McDonald said court staff are trying to be as creative as they can to address increased drug use.
“Could we do better with substance abuse issues in adult court?” McDonald asked. “We probably could, and I would like to coordinate with some of the stakeholders here and try doing some more exploring as far as what’s out there and what kind of innovative approaches we can take.”
Crawford County is part of a regional sobriety court to address repeat drinking and driving offenders. Crawford County has had eight graduates from the sobriety court and there are five people currently involved in the program.
“When I go to these graduations and I hear not only how the life of participant has changed, but also their families, it’s absolutely amazing, so it works,” McDonald said.
McDonald reported that four students involved in a program between the courts and Crawford AuSable School District recently graduated.