Judges seek support for local drug treatment office

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, May 14, 2024

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VIDALIA, La. — Both judges serving Louisiana Seventh Judicial District are gathering support for a program that would help local addicts, mental health patients and victims who lack transportation to other parishes.

Northeast Louisiana Substance Abuse, or NELSA, is a 501(c)3 organization that provides an array of resources to courts and individuals from individual or group counseling services for mental health patients or battery victims to drug screenings and treatment plans for moderate to severe addicts.

The program also provides anger management and batterers intervention, moral recognition and cognitive behavior therapies and more.

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However, its closest office is in Catahoula Parish.

“Basically, they do a lot of things we believe we need to be doing,” Judge Kathy A. Johnson, Division A told the Concordia Parish Police Jury on Monday. “We’ve been trying to send people here over there, but so many people here don’t have the transportation. … We talked with the sheriff (David Hedrick) and he’s willing to let them use one of his portable buildings out there to meet their clients.”

No specific money amount was requested of the police jury, however, Johnson asked them to consider using funds from a national settlement of opioid lawsuits “to help local people who just can’t get to Catahoula.”

In 2021, four major drug industry companies including Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson agreed with the majority of U.S. states to a $26 billion deal that would settle lawsuits over the national opioid crisis.

Concordia Parish is slated to receive approximately $900,000, or 0.33 percent of the $325 million in Louisiana’s share of the national settlement. The state expects $18 million each year for the next 18 years.

Mississippi plans to give 70% to the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Center for Addiction Medicine, 15% to counties and municipalities, and 15% to the state.

Judge John Reeves, Division B, said as he and Johnson both near retirement, “We want to pass on the baton (to new judges) in a very positive way.”

NELSA has had “a lot of success” in judicial drug court, he said.

“Everyone here has someone in their family who has been affected by drugs,” he said. “We’re asking you to please consider this very seriously because we take it very seriously. We send people to rehab every week. This helps us do it faster, easier and makes the whole process work better.”

Johnson said she has seen men break down in court crying to be placed in a program such as this.

“When they get to that point where they’re crying from their heart and want to go, we send them,” Reeves said.

Those who don’t finish the program successfully and break their probation would go back to jail while those who do finish turn their lives around, he said.

Kelly Lumas, social worker and certified addiction counselor who has worked with NELSA in Catahoula Parish since January, said she has seen “a world of difference” made in the lives of the Catahoula Parish community in the short time the program has been there.

“I’ve seen it make a difference for people that have struggled — seven-time felony offenders,” she said. Juveniles who grew up in a home were drugs are all they know “have this opportunity that they’ve never had before … to not be a stigma to fall into what they grew up in.”

No actions were taken on the matter during Monday’s meeting.