County officials: ‘We are here to help’

Raising awareness, reducing stigma during Recovery Month

Posted 9/6/23

HONESDALE, PA — Jeffrey Zerechak, director of Wayne County’s Drug & Alcohol (D&A) Commission, has heard stories like it too many times.

Someone is struggling with substance …

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County officials: ‘We are here to help’

Raising awareness, reducing stigma during Recovery Month


HONESDALE, PA — Jeffrey Zerechak, director of Wayne County’s Drug & Alcohol (D&A) Commission, has heard stories like it too many times.

Someone is struggling with substance abuse disorder, so the family takes out a second mortgage on their home and will “borrow copious amounts of money and get themselves into debt forever,” just to have enough money to send their loved one to a treatment facility in Florida.

“That’s really not the best route, unless you’re independently wealthy and want to do that,” he said. “Our office is here to serve the residents of Wayne County, and we can help fund treatment so individuals and families don’t incur that kind of debt in order to help get the help they need.”

With COVID-19 came a concerning drop in calls from residents looking for help with addiction, he said. Since then, the numbers have returned to what they looked like pre-pandemic; Zerechak just wishes more people knew about his office. 

That’s why Wayne County D&A is hosting its Recovery Month Fair at The Cooperage Project in Honesdale on September 28. Zerechak said that the fair is going to offer “holistic” recovery options for residents. At least 18 providers will be there.

“It’s not just going to be drug and alcohol [recovery] providers. It’s going to be individuals who offer vocational training and other types of behavioral and physical health services,” he said.

Throughout Recovery Month, the department makes a concerted push, not only to raise awareness, but also to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse. Even in the criminal justice field, this treatment-focused approach is becoming the standard.

The trend can be seen in county programs such as the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI)—which provides every law enforcement entity within the county “an opportunity to save lives and play a role in breaking the stigma of drug and alcohol addiction” by training officers to connect residents with D&A.

“I’ve been in the field for 26 years in various capacities, and over that, I’ve definitely seen the shift and a welcome shift at that,” Zerechak said. “For a lot of our population, criminal behavior is a symptom of substance use disorder… I really think that offering people an opportunity to get the help they need, in lieu of punishment, is the external push that some people need to trigger their internal change process.”

Getting help, not punishment

LETI is the latest step in this direction. Since 2017, Wayne County has also offered a Drug & Treatment Court, which involves monitored rehabilitation to eligible residents who would otherwise be facing jail time. The program takes 18 to 36 months to complete. Melinda Card, the court’s coordinator, said it takes that lengthier period to find the underlying struggles the individual is working through that have led to their substance use disorder.

“We can kind of separate the addiction from mental health or trauma, and successfully address not just the addiction, but also the underlying mental health issue or trauma issue,” Card said. “You can get someone through a program motivated by getting out of jail, motivated by getting their charges dropped. But once you remove those external motivations, if those internal issues aren’t resolved, they’re more likely to go back to what was effective for them before.”

Because it takes a while to get through—and with COVID-19 slowing things down—there’s not a very large sample size. So far, however, drug court is proving highly successful in Wayne County. Of the 31 graduates since 2017, only one person has been reincarcerated.

National data has found that drug courts reduce recidivism and save counties money compared to regular sentencings.

One recent PA-based study by NPC Research—commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice and Bureau of Justice Assistance—found that treatment courts reduce recidivism by more than 75 percent in some programs, with a majority demonstrating better results than comparison groups. They also saved taxpayers nearly $50 million statewide, over three years, due to fewer arrests, court dates, jail days and victimizations.

Part of the hope, however, with events like the upcoming Recovery Month Fair, is that residents will seek help before things like treatment courts become necessary. A few years ago, at the height of the opioid epidemic, heroin and other opioids overtook alcohol as the primary substance driving people to seek help, Zerechak said. 

More recently, however, alcohol has again taken the number one spot, with opioids “in a close second.” After that comes marijuana.

Zerechak said that the department’s marijuana caseload has been increasing, and he expects that it will continue.

“Whenever you have accessibility and social acceptance, you always see your numbers go up,” he said, adding that it’s a misconception that marjuana is not an addictive substance. “It definitely can cause a lot of the same issues as any other addiction can cause.”

No matter what the substance is, Zerechak said D&A is the place for residents to find help. Regardless of someone’s financial status, he said, the department will work with the individual to determine the best path forward.

The department’s phone number is 570/253-6022 and the county’s 24/7 crisis hotline is 1-833/55REACH. The Recovery Month Fair will take place at The Cooperage Project on Main Street in Honesdale on Thursday, September 28, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

wayne county, drug and alcohol, commission, Jeffrey Zerechak, drug court, opioid, marijuana, DUI


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