Centre considers grant to help fund drug court

BELLEFONTE — Centre County is looking into a national grant that could help fund a drug court that it plans to start this October.

On Tuesday morning, Cathy Arbogast, assistant administrator of Centre County Drug and Alcohol Services, came before the Centre County Board of Commissioners, seeking feedback and support for the grant application. The Bureau of Justice Assistance grant, if awarded, would provide a maximum of $400,000 over a period of 36 months. Arbogast said that the grant could be used to fund court operations and services, participant supervision, case management, and treatment services.

“The big reason why we are doing a drug court is because it works,” said Commissioner Mike Pipe. “It’s shown it works; it has effectiveness.”

The Board of Commissioners said they are very much in support of the grant application, and Commissioner Steven Dershem said that if the grant would be awarded, it would be a big cost offset to the county in getting the drug court started. The grant application is due Feb. 28, and if the grant is awarded, the county would be notified in September, prior to the program’s expected start date of Oct. 1.

The grant, along with other financial resources the county is looking into, would support the development of an adult drug court, which would be a problem-solving court that will take on a public health approach to the county’s heroin and opioid crisis. The program would start with probation and parole violators who are considered non-violent offenders, Arbogast said.

During the series of heroin and opioid awareness town hall meetings held last year in the county, Judge Pamela Ruest, who will serve as judge for the drug court program, explained that the program could last between 18 to 24 months and will help reduce relapses and help former drug users become productive members of society. According to Arbogast, the program, which will take on a much more therapeutic, individualized focus, will require biweekly visits before the judge so that each program participant is accountable for how they have been doing, and there will be intensive supervision by probation and parole.

“There is no one tool that will solve this issue,” Arbogast said. “Just as there is no one path to recovery for individuals who have a substance use disorder. So this gives us yet one more opportunity to afford individuals a chance to be successful on their own.”

Back in 2009, the county was awarded a similar grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance and it was used to help fund the start of the county’s DUI court, Arbogast said. The drug court would be somewhat similar to the DUI court, which has proven to be very successful.

For the grant, there is an approximately $133,000 match requirement required and the county can use in-kind and cash match to satisfy this requirement. Arbogast said that she is very confident that the county will be able to satisfy that match without any difficulty, thanks to the continued involvement of the planning team.

“This is another program that we hope will help eliminate, or at least reduce, overdose deaths,” added Gene Lauri, director of the county criminal justice planning department.

Another program that has been actively working in the county to help solve the heroin and opioid crisis is the Heroin Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative, which held a series of four town hall meetings last year to address the issue, and this year, it will be hosting an outreach event on Wednesday, March 29. Being held from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Sundman Hall in the American Philatelic Society headquarters in Bellefonte, the outreach event will include a remembrance ceremony and an addiction awareness information fair.