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County recognized for efforts to treat drug abuse and mental illness among criminals

Four Merrimack County employees have been recognized by the National Association of Counties for their efforts to treat drug addiction and mental illness among criminals.

The awards, presented yesterday at a ceremony at the county’s nursing home in Boscawen, were bestowed on jail Superintendent Ron White and County Attorney Scott Murray, along with David Croft, director of the county’s Diversion Program, and Ginnie Stahley-Arenella, a case manager.

Murray’s initiative, Diagnose and Treat Addiction, or DATA, debuted in late 2011 and provides criminals with medical evaluations and follow-up treatment at a fraction of their typical costs, which can run several hundred dollars, said Croft and Stahley-Arenella, who helped implement the program.

The problem, Croft said, is that defendants dealing with substance abuse often lack insurance and are unemployed or have minimal incomes. But those enrolled in DATA pay just $100, of which half is sent to clinicians and half to the county for administrative fees. Follow-up treatment appointments are also cheaper – $25 to $30 per hour, rather than $75 to $125. Fees can also be paid for through installments rather than the full amount up front.

The system effectively kills two birds with one stone by reducing treatment costs and eliminating paperwork headaches for doctors, Murray said. And it has cost the county nothing, he said. In fact, Murray said, last year it pulled in about $18,000.

Murray estimated that 80 percent of cases that flow through his office involve substance abuse, and he said effectively mitigating that in the long run would help both to shrink the prison population and lower expenses.

“The criminal justice system just needs to do more across the board to deal with substance abuse issues,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to get the recidivism numbers down.”

Also recognized at the ceremony was White, the county corrections superintendent, for his work to provide more support to criminals suffering from mental illness.

In 2010, White and others established a mental health court in Concord that partners with area and state service providers to establish and monitor treatment plans for defendants. The system itself isn’t unique, White said, but the way it was established in the county is.

“A lot of (counties) have established the mental health court, but then they don’t necessarily have the partnership behind it to support it,” he said. “We established the partnerships first and then the court.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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