2018-08-01 / Front Page

Judges called to action at state opioid summit

Nicole DeCriscio

On Wednesday, leaders from across the state gathered in Indianapolis to discuss the court system and the opioid epidemic.

Throughout the day, there were several sessions covering topics such as medication-assisted treatment for opioid use, the science behind addiction and the role that the criminal justice system can play in solving the problem.

But it wasn’t until the closing remarks that the true purpose of the summit was front and center — the ability to save lives and what those living in long-term recovery look like.

The closing remarks started with Hon. Loretta H. Rush, Chief Justice of Indiana, introducing Hon. Steven H. David. Rush and her office helped coordinate the summit, which grew more than 1,000 justice professionals and other leaders to discuss opioid use disorder and the criminal justice system.

David is the 106th justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and was appointed in 2010. He spent 16 years in Boone County as a trial court judge and served in the military for 28 years.

“I need a neck brace to go home because my brain is full of information that I can’t process yet,” David said.

He was tasked with delivering a call to action and introducing Brandon George, who was the last speaker of the summit.

“I dare say there’s not another state that is working as hard as Indiana is here to solve, resolve, transform lives, indeed, save lives,” David said. “Those from inside the state of Indiana, you’re here because you want to make a difference.”

David shared the infamous John F. Kennedy quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

But he had his own version of the quote to share.

“Ask not what I can do for my county, ask what we, the county, can do for the men and women in our county who are facing these challenges,” David said. “Success or failure of our mission is not dependent on any one of us. The success or failure of this mission and failure is not an option, is dependent on all of us. This crisis is affecting every city, every town, every county, every nook and cranny in Indiana. Far too many victims have fallen willing or unwillingly to the wrath of substance abuse.”

He said that it doesn’t matter how fellow Hoosiers became addicted to opioids and other substances, rather, it is what we, as a state, do about it.

“This crisis is affecting all of us. It’s not just the people we see as we drive by, those people, them. It’s our friends. It’s our neighbors. It’s our aunts and uncles. It’s some of our grandparents. It’s far too many of our siblings and God forbid our children,” David said. “What matters tomorrow and every day thereafter is what are we going to do about it. Our burden is heavy, but with a purpose, we can make a difference.”

David said he believes everyone in the audience can make a difference.

“Don’t ever doubt your ability, your county’s ability, this state’s ability to make profound change,” David said before introducing George.

“He is a true living example of what can be done and why we are here,” David said of George.

George is the director of the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition. He serves on the advisory board for Indiana’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction and manages the jail chemical addictions program in Boone County.

“I’m not here today or on this stage right now because I oversee the Boone County jail-based treatment program or because I’m the director of Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition,” George said to introduce himself. “I’m standing up here today as a person in longterm recovery from severe opioid use disorder and substance use disorder.”

He said that when he was a teenager, he had two friends that were murdered and had a few brushes with the law. Then, by the time he was 21, he had received two DUIs.

“My life was completely unraveling before it ever began,” George said.

Because of his addiction, George said he couldn’t hold a job, which led to homelessness and jail time.

“This would lead to a revolving door of treatment. I had eight inpatient stays at roughly six different places,” George said.

But all of that changed nearly 10 years ago.

“When I was in that cop car on Dec. 18, 2008, I was devastated. I was wondering how did this happen again, how did I get here again. Little did I know that that was going to be the first day of my recovery,” George said.

He said he went through treatment, residential care, therapy, medication-assisted treatment, lived in a structured environment and had accountability from the criminal justice system.

He detailed the roadblock he had after his recovery — the inability to move up into a management position at a restaurant because of his criminal record.

George received his GED, attended Indiana Wesleyan University and graduated with a 3.9 GPA.

He then switched fields and met with the sheriff of Boone County to run the addictions program. He thanked the leaders from Boone County who gave him a chance despite his past.

“They’re able to see past what was on a piece of paper and see me for a person,” George said.

He then talked about the changes that have taken place over the last decade.

“For as much that has changed, a lot is still the same. I still talk about drugs. I still go to jail. And I still stand in front of judges. Today when I talk about drugs, it’s in relation to recovery. When I go to jail I actually get to walk up to the door and punch my code in to let me in, and better yet, they let me leave when it’s time to go. And when I stand in front of judges, it’s usually to give updates on clients in our program or things like we’re doing today.”

He talked about the impact that addiction had on his life, mainly the relationship with his daughter who is now 19 and didn’t want to see him for a period of time.

George then said several people said they were not sure if he should speak about his recovery and asked what happens if a judge, probation officer or sheriff that dealt with him prior was in attendance.

“My response was simple, ‘What if they don’t? What if they don’t see anybody in recovery. What if they haven’t seen anybody that has worn orange before, that’s been down and out, that’s been able to get healthy, get their life back together and become a good father, a good son, a good neighbor, maybe even a leader in their community,” George said.

“I refuse to believe that Hoosier hospitality does not apply to recovery from addiction.,” he continued. “I refuse to believe that the people in this room would stop working with me or anyone else who had a chronic disease, who had poor impulse control from using drugs a decade ago, but the stigma around addiction is suffocating.”

George ended his remarks with words of encouragement to justice professionals.

“This group stands at what I believe is the most difficult crossroads of addiction — it’s the intersection between public health and criminal justice, but this group also has the ability to affect change more so than any other group.

“If your advisory boards in your counties and the coalitions you sit on don’t have somebody in recovery on them, find one,” George said. “They (those in recovery) don’t have all the answers to the problems, but their opinion is invaluable. They will be able to point out strengths and weaknesses in the system and maybe bring a message of hope when everything seems hopeless.

“There’s nothing special about me. I’m just one of 23 million people who’s living in recovery. I’m here today to tell you that treatment works and recovery is possible.”

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2018-08-01 digital edition