- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) - With his own history of alcohol addiction and recovery, Jason Latva is taking on Manitowoc County’s drug epidemic through his work as county drug court coordinator.

“Getting to this place where I am right now, I really feel like I was meant to be here because this is where my passion is,” Latva told the Herald Times Reporter (https://htrne.ws/2rchDS5 ). “I feel that every day, and it is a huge driving factor for me.”

Latva said his addiction probably started with food. He gained weight until going for a gastric bypass surgery. After the surgery, eating wasn’t an issue for him, but he never went to the recommended counseling afterward and began to drink heavily. He estimates he has been an addict of some form or another for the majority of his life.

“It does give me an extra level of credibility. . It does not make me better than anybody, but I will use that to my advantage,” he said.

Latva started working on implementing a drug court for the Manitowoc County court system Jan. 30 under a TAD (Treatment Alternative Diversion) grant, a five-year renewable grant, secured for the Manitowoc County Human Services Department.

“Manitowoc County has a deficit in mental health and behavioral treatment, but so does the whole state,” Latva said. “Since we are in Manitowoc County, it is our job to figure out how to deal with it so we can serve our citizens.”

For Latva, serving Manitowoc citizens means using the drug court to bring more services to the area like an intensive outpatient program to treat behavioral disorders and moral reconation therapy, which teaches moral reasoning in an attempt to decrease recidivism.

“People are so much more than their issues. Drug court could help people get their GED, find mental health therapy, getting job skills, you have to address all of that in order to get healing to happen,” Latva said.

However, Manitowoc may not see those programs for a while. First, Latva is focused on creating the drug court program, which means setting stipulations for membership, planning the phases of the program, and deciding on the incentives and sanctions that will be used.

“I kind of hit the ground running as much as I could to meet as many people as I can, build connections and relationships,” Latva said.

Latva said he wants to make sure the program doesn’t over-utilize sanctions, but will be a more holistic approach to making sure drug use offenders get the help they need.

“We don’t want it to be a program where all we are doing is punishing people . it’s about building self-esteem and looking at multiple areas of their life,” he said. “Just helping somebody get off drugs and alcohol, if we were to only focus on that, it would probably be doomed to failure because we’re not addressing the other areas in their life that they may need help with.”

He said the drug court will help participants find mental therapy resources, teach job skills and even assist them in obtaining a GED if they need it. However, the program will not be open to everybody. Latva said they will only accept people who do not have a violent history and do not have any drug dealing offenses.

Latva said the ultimate goal of the program is to decrease the number of “operating while revoked” and “bail jumping” charges issued through the Manitowoc County Circuit Court.

He expects the drug court to start on or before Aug. 1. While only 12 people will be allowed to participate in 2017, he said that number could increase to 20 or more in the following years, depending on the services and funding available.

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Information from: HTR Media, https://www.htrnews.com

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