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Allen County probationers to participate in national drug testing study

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 29, 2015 09:01 pm
When Allen Superior Court Judge Wendy Davis participated in a round-table discussion about Hoosiers Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C., she put her networking efforts in high gear to receive much-needed help in her fight against drug abuse locally. In an effort to identify synthetic-cannabinoid trends locally, 200 Allen County probationers will participate in a pilot drug study conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) on behalf of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Annual Drug Control Strategy. Some of the probationers will be from Davis' HOPE program. K2, spice and bath salts are examples of synthetic cannabinoids that mimic THC, the primary psychoactive active ingredient found in marijuana.

Davis spoke at the Institute For Behavior and Health conference about her experience in implementing the program that she began in 2011 in Allen County. The concept, which originated in Hawaii, accepts offenders who pose a low threat to the community, but who endanger their lives through substance abuse or repeated probation violations. Participants are given a color and must call every day to find out the color of the day. If their color is picked, they must submit to drug and alcohol testing that day. If they do not call or do not submit to drug testing, a warrant is issued for their arrest and they appear before Davis immediately to explain why they did not call in or submit to drug testing. The same also happens if the HOPE probationer tests positive. The program has proved to be effective in reducing drug abuse, criminal behavior and incarceration.

Davis said the intense probationary program places a great deal of accountability on the participant. "There is a swift and certain circumstance for any violation," she said. "They are evidence-based practices certified by the state."

However, drug tests currently identify main drugs, such as PCP, heroin and marijuana, but have no way of identifying synthetic cannabinoid drugs that are constantly evolving, according to Eric D. Wish, director of CESAR at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., who is in charge of the study.

"People who know they are being tested switch to synthetic cannabinoid drugs," Wish said.

For the study, Wish will collect 200 random urine specimens that have already been tested for the main drugs. The only information he will have is the gender of the person, the birth year and whether the specimen tested positive or negative. "These are specimens ready to be thrown out," he said. "Without cost, we're able to tell what drugs are being used," he said. This will be a one-time collection and testing.

The study, now in its third year, also has been done in Denver, Tampa and the District of Columbia. If a particular synthetic drug shows up repeatedly in the one-time collection, Wish said it is possible he will return for another collection. He said Tampa modified its drug test to include testing of the synthetic cannabinoid drug that showed positive in many of its samples.

Allen County probationers are charged $5 per drug test, which identifies only basic drugs, according to Chief Adult Probation Officer Eric Zimmerman. The drug test that identifies synthetic cannabinoid drugs would cost $15 to $20 per offender. 

Zimmerman said each year 6,000 to 7,000 drug tests are performed, of which about 14 percent test positive. Fewer than 5 percent dispute positive results when confronted, but Zimmerman said probationers will tell him beforehand that they've been using and what drugs he can expect to find in the drug test. "Honesty is the first part of recovery," he said. "I still will test... Trust, but verify." 

Currently, there are 3,000 adult felony probationers, including 250 in the HOPE program. 

Zimmerman said his first concern is community safety. "Intervening in offenders' lives gives them cognitive interventions to make better decisions," he said. "The community is going to be a better and safer place."

Davis said she started the HOPE program for two reasons: new criminal code reform and the need for true rehabilitation post-conviction. "We, as a judiciary, must decide how best to supervise," she said. "Safety to community is the top priority. I have my finger on them. (The program offers) real rehab through the court system."

"On a national level, we are all dealing with new emerging drugs in our community," Davis said. "It's not just unique to Indiana... I'm hoping that I can bring the resources from the federal level to the state level." Gov. Mike Pence selected Davis to the Governor's Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention last month.





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