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Ohio judge among backers of drug-shot option for heroin users

"Just Say No." That was the banner that advocates of the U.S. war on drugs marched behind during the 1980s and 90s. Many might argue that it hasn't quite stood the test of time, but that doesn't mean anti-drug warriors have left the battle field. And Ohio is among the states where the fight is being carried on.

One of the places this can be seen is the courtroom of Warren County Judge Robert Peeler. He is said to be a growing number of corrections and judicial officials in the U.S. that are throwing their support behind a program that offers individuals who may be facing drug charges involving heroin a chance to avoid prison and get their lives back on track. It replaces shots of heroin with shots of another drug called Vivitrol.

Vivitrol works by blocking heroin's narcotic effect on the brain. Advocates say one injection a month eases the pull that heroin abusers may feel as they try to kick the habit. Experts say methadone treatments are more widely used, but they require a trip to a clinic every day and carry a risk of dependency.

The drug-shot approach is not without opponents. Critics say that at a possible cost of $1,000 a dose it's expensive and may not be effective enough to justify its cost. But Peeler and others say that if it saves lives and reduces crime, Vivitrol is worth it.  

Federal statistics show that heroin overdose deaths rose by 45 percent from 2006 to 2010. In Ohio, the death toll from heroin overdoses hit 680 in 2012. That was 60 percent higher than 2011.

Peeler says he just wants to stop people from dying.

Many people facing possession charges are in that situation because of drug addiction. For them, a drug court program such as the one represented here may be the key to breaking free of the habit. By working with an experienced attorney, a defendant can improve the chances of being able to access such rehabilitation opportunities where they exist.

Source: WSYX-TV, "Courts Fight Heroin Scourge with Drug Injections," Associated Press, June 22, 2014

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