WILMINGTON — The judge who presides over the Clinton County drug court believes that simply possessing drugs should not be a felony.
Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck was on a panel Tuesday for the 2018 Westheimer Peace Symposium at Wilmington College which had the theme “The Opioid Crisis: Addressing Addiction Through a Social Justice Lens”.
The panel also included the director of Sugartree Ministries in Wilmington, a psychologist with a Wilmington practice, and the director of advocacy for a Granville, Ohio non-profit organization that supports drug policies based on science, health, compassion and human rights.
After the four members of the Judicial and Rehabilitative Responses Panel gave their opening statements, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. One question posed to all four panelists was: “Operationally, what do you feel is the most important aspect of the way we handle drug addiction right now that needs to change?”
It was in reply to that question that Rudduck said drug possession should not be a felony. An exception to that would be if the drug amount were at a level where presumably it is for trafficking and not for the possessor’s use alone.
The judge, like many people, regards drug addiction as a health issue that’s been criminalized.
On Tuesday, Rudduck repeated what he has said multiple times before about his own thoughts on the matter. He said he did not understand until relatively recently how these powerful opioids affect a person’s brain.
“When I learned how it captures the brain, and how long it takes to become un-addicted, it created a completely different thought process about how we should deal with drug addiction in the criminal justice system,” the judge said.
He then went on to say “drug addiction is a health issue that we’ve criminalized,” and that’s why in 2014 he and other local residents began advocating for a community response to the deadly problem, which led to the forming of a local drug court.
During his discussion, Rudduck gave as an example someone carrying a prescription pill that was not prescribed to them. That’s a felony, he said, adding that the felony will be on the person’s record after the case is over for at least three years after they’re off supervision when the record may get sealed.
If drug possession in general were a misdemeanor, that would decrease Ohio’s prison population and the money saved could go toward providing the local communities the resources they need to treat those addicted to drugs, the judge said.
Rudduck said at one juncture during the panel discussion that it will take time “for the public to understand that drug addiction — possession of drugs [not drug trafficking] — should not be criminalized in a way that people can be sent to prison.”
A second panelist, Harm Reduction Ohio Director of Advocacy Taylor Bennett encouraged audience members to have conversations with others about the stigma of drug addiction and a need to remove the stigma.
Lee Sandlin, director of Sugartree Ministries which includes Your Father’s Kitchen, said “upwards of 70 percent of people who visit the soup kitchen ministry probably has some sort of addiction issue, maybe beyond that.”
And psychologist Bill Kennedy, PsyD, said there needs to be a shift so that people recognize an interconnectedness.
“I can’t treat people with substance abuse as separate from me; I have to see this as all interconnected,” said Kennedy.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.