HANCOCK COUNTY — A local treatment program for heroin addicts is expanding.
County officials plan to hire a new probation officer to help usher drug addicts through treatment.
The Hancock County Council this week approved Chief Probation Officer Wayne Addison’s request to add an employee to his staff in hopes of enrolling more drug addicts into a program that allows them to serve time for low-level crimes while receiving treatment.
For the past year, the probation office has used what it has dubbed “the heroin protocol” to help treat offenders who are addicted to opioids. After pleading guilty to their crimes, offenders who enroll in the program are sent to serve their sentence in a halfway house program rather than in traditional lockdown.
The program was created last year as part of the county’s ongoing efforts to curb heroin and prescription painkiller addiction throughout Hancock County, where officials estimate some 90 percent of the offenders in the local jail suffer from a drug problem. Citing a need for local treatment options, Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver and local addiction specialists teamed up to spearhead the initiative, which emphasizes healing rather than punishment, they say.
Probation officer Amy Ikerd has spearheaded the program, helping to enroll 20 people since last spring. But the work is time-consuming, she said. She first meets with the offender in the jail to assess whether they’re a good candidate for the program. Then she has to find space for the inmate at an area halfway house. Once checked in, she meets with the offender bi-weekly to ensure they’ve stayed committed to their program as outlined by the plea agreement they accepted.
The work is hands-on, she said. She’s even driven addicts to the halfway house once they’ve detox at the Hancock County Jail.
Because of the amount of work involved, she’s able to take on only 10 cases at a time, leaving others qualified to enroll on a wait list, she said. During the past year, her work hasn’t slowed down; she receives calls often from family members and offenders who want treatment. Ten people in the jail now are waiting for a spot to open for them, she cited as an example.
Adding another staff member would allow the program to expand, Addison said. The probation officer who is hired won’t necessarily work only on heroin cases, he said, but the staff member would be able to help Ikerd when necessary, as well as oversee offenders who are serving probation after completing 90 days at the recovery house.
The county council last year budgeted $35,000 extra for Addison to hire a part- or full-time employee as he deemed necessary. He’s since hired a part-time employee to help with paperwork and will use a portion of the extra funding to bring on a full-time probation officer. He expects he’ll need an extra $10,000 toward the end of the year to cover the officer’s salary as the funding previously allocated dries up. A new probation officer would earn about $35,000 annually, not including benefits, he said.
It didn’t take much to convince county council members to agree to hiring another probation officer. It’s a necessary expense, they agreed.
“This is a serious problem, and I think we need to take some action,” council president Bill Bolander said.