article originally published in the Summer 2019 SOR Justice-Focused Update Newsletter 8/22/2019
The Opioid Training and Education Series (OTES) is an SOR-funded series of four classes that encompass a wide variety of topics relating to Substance Use Disorder (SUD) from health, safety, and legal concerns. After an individual enrolled in the program completes all four classes, their case is dismissed and their felony charge is dropped.
The first class, Basics of Risk Reduction, facilitated by Chad Sabora (BA, MS, JD, Co-Founder/Executive Director of Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery,) is an introduction to risk mitigation concepts, rights of people who use drugs, the 911 Good Samaritan Law, overdose recognition and response training (including naloxone use), as well as overdose prevention strategies.
The second class, Substance-related Health and Safety, facilitated by Dr. Kanika Turner (Associate Medical Director, Family Care Health Center) and Robert Riley II (CRADC, Co-Founder and Vice President of Missouri Network For Opiate Reform And Recovery,) involves trauma-informed care, drug contamination and checking (including how to use fentanyl test strips), dangers of polysubstance use, and medical health information and primary care considerations.
The third class, Identifying Problematic Drug Use, facilitated by: Dr. Fred Rottnek (MD, MAHCM, Professor and Director of Community Medicine, Saint Louis University), Marcus Woodson (Substance Use Disorder Counselor/Social Worker, SSM St. Joseph Hospital), and Robert Riley II, details biological and environmental vulnerabilities involved with OUD, the biopsychosocial model of SUD development, and the delineated differences and intersectionality between use, dependence, and addiction.
The final class, Collateral Consequences of Drug Use and Selling, led by Chad Sabora, shares with participants the available diversion programs in their community, and aims to educate on future implications of drug charges and how to navigate systems and certain rights that may be jeopardized (e.g., right to carry, student loan eligibility, food stamp eligibility, expungement rights, voting rights).
We reached out to attorney and Diversion Coordinator for the Saint Louis Circuit Attorney’s office, Megan Kaatz to learn more about OTES classes. Megan has been integral to the program that aims to connect participants to resources and provide education on topics for those in active substance/opioid use as well as for individuals seeking recovery. In her own words, Megan explains the mission of the program and her bright hopes for the graduating participants in the future:
In a nutshell, it’s a series of four classes that we offer at the Circuit Attorney’s Office. It provides a look at some of the health concerns associated with using opioids such as risk of overdose, as well as the potential for exposure to HIV and Hepatitis C. Through the classes [participants] will also learn about available resources for finding treatment. We cover legal consequences and outcomes of using opioids. We also look at OUD and how it affects the body and mind. We also explain overdose response and how to administer naloxone.
After [participants] complete the four classes it is what we call nolle pros, in that we dismiss the case. It is a pre-plea program. They do not have to plea guilty to be eligible and if they successfully complete the program we dismiss the charge. Just like that.
This is definitely our most requested program. As the Diversion Coordinator at the Circuit Attorney’s Office, we offer a variety of programs but these classes are what I am emailed about most often from defense attorneys asking if their client could be considered for the program. There is a lot interest in the program. Of the people who have completed the program, a number of the individuals have expressed to me, and their attorneys have expressed to me, just how much they have learned from the classes. A lot of the information they are getting for the first time and how it is really changing their perspective. Across the board, very positive reactions.
We are also providing Narcan® which is so vitally important. That item alone, if nothing else, makes the program successful. People are coming to these classes and walking away with naloxone and the knowledge on how to save another person’s life.
Communication with defense attorneys relaying the time and dates of upcoming classes has been a barrier. I know it can be a transient population at times and securing transportation can be an obstacle for many, but I think we can help remove some of the barriers facing attendance and completing the course by giving everyone plenty of notice of when the classes will be, but not too far in advance that they might forget. It’s a balance of finding that sweet spot of timing. But once we get them here, there has been so much success.
It may seem like a hassle at the time, to go and spend eight hours over four weeks sitting in a class, but to attend four classes where [participants] can learn life-saving and life-changing information and walk away with Narcan® gives me such a feeling of hope for their future. Participants have a better chance at success and take home at the end of the day the knowledge that they have options if they decide that they want to pursue treatment. Also, if they complete the classes, the felony charge is dropped from their record. And that is huge—that’s why we do it, to give people a second chance at a better life. So if you’re out there and you are in the program, keep coming, finish the classes, it’s worth it. Stick it out, at the end of the four weeks, you can walk away with a fresh start. As adults, we don’t get many opportunities for do-overs in life, but with this program and thanks to SOR, second-chances are possible in Missouri.
A warm thank you to Megan Kaatz for her time and for sharing about the life-changing work being accomplished with the Opioid Training and Education Series
Kaatz, Megan. Phone Interview. Aaron Ruiz. Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Heartfelt thanks to Chad Sabora, Robert Riley II, Marcus Woodson, Dr. Kanika Turner, and Dr. Fred Rottnek for the time and effort they pour into making OTES classes possible.