Sunday, May 29, 2005

Speaking of Credibility

The big media news of the weekend was the announcement in Sunday's JG that reporter Todd D. Burlage had resigned.
On Sunday, May 8, The Journal Gazette published a front-page story with the headline “Enforced sobriety,” which explained how the Alcohol Abuse Deterrent Program works in Allen County.

On Thursday, Journal Gazette editors were made aware for the first time that a member of the reporter’s immediate family was a client of the program.

This is a violation of The Journal Gazette’s Ethics and Professional Standards Policy, signed by all Journal Gazette staff members, which requires that: “Any affiliation related to a story that a staff member is covering, editing or packaging must be disclosed to the staff member’s editor.”

As a consequence of the violation of this policy, writer Todd D. Burlage has resigned from The Journal Gazette.

An ongoing sentence-by-sentence review of the story has so far turned up no errors in the facts of that special report. Any found will be promptly reported and corrected.

We take seriously any threats to our credibility with readers and apologize that this violation of our policy made it into print.
Our reaction to this story will be forthcoming. (As in sometime Monday.)

UPDATE: For those of you who missed the story in question, we're including it below. (We imagine the JG will hide it behind their archives shortly. As in when they discover that it's still available on their website.)

Enforced sobriety

Antabuse’s critics say it’s dangerous; advocates praise it

By Todd D. Burlage
The Journal Gazette

The plain white pill could easily be mistaken for any vitamin or Tylenol capsule.

But for 1,200 Allen County residents serving a court-ordered Antabuse regimen, the potency of this pill far exceeds any supplement or pain reliever.

Antabuse, the brand name for disulfiram, is a prescription drug that blocks the body’s ability to process alcohol and therefore triggers discomfort and illness when mixed with alcoholic beverages. Flushing, breathing problems and nausea are the most common alcohol-induced reactions.

Antabuse is prescribed and administered in Allen County by the Alcohol Abuse Deterrent Program, a non-profit agency on Maumee Avenue.

For those in the program, Antabuse provides a chance to stay out of jail, on the job and with their families.

For many, Antabuse helps ease the grip of alcohol addiction and offers a clear mind and fresh start through court-ordered sobriety.

Alcohol-related crashes causing death and personal injury are at a 40-year low in Allen County, in part, those at AADP say, because of an aggressive push to get drunken drivers off the streets and into the Antabuse program.

Others see required pre-trial entry into the program as potentially unconstitutional, Antabuse as a long-term health risk, and the whole program as a money-making machine for those running it to pocket healthy incomes in the name of rehabilitation.

The program’s revenue approached $2 million and the client list topped 2,000 in 2003, according to tax and AADP records.

AADP was founded in 1989 as a private corporation that is unaffiliated with the county or state. It works in conjunction with the local court system and adult probation to bring sobriety to drivers who have two or more drunken-driving convictions.

“If they are non-violent and they’ve got an alcohol problem, there’s a pretty good chance they are going to end up here one way or another,” said AADP executive director Terry Yeiter, the man who oversees the facility.

Repeat drunken-driving offenders picked up on new DWI charges are given a simple and clear choice in Allen County: Go to the AADP clinic and take Antabuse up to three times a week, or go to jail.

Given the choice, Yeiter said, 99 percent choose Antabuse and enroll with the program for what is typically a three-year sentence. A five- or six-year Antabuse sentence is not unusual for habitual offenders.

“We are kind of a dumping ground for people that the system doesn’t know what else to do with,” said Yeiter, proud of the fact that the AADP enrollment numbers indicate the program is helping pull drunken drivers off the streets.

In the five years from 1999 to 2003, police and deterrent program records indicate DWI arrests in Allen County steadily climbed from 1,399 to 2,836, and the program’s annual admissions more than doubled from 265 to 565.

The greatest spike in both areas came after July 2001 when the legal blood-alcohol content for a driver was lowered from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.

“The numbers are high because I think Allen County is probably one of the most aggressive counties in the United States in terms of dealing with (drunken drivers),” said Yeiter, a state-certified alcohol and drug counselor. “There just is not much messing around here at all, and I think that is the difference between this county and a lot of other counties.”

According to AADP records, 2,254 local residents spent some time in the program in 2004.

Factor in multiple arrests, and Yeiter said those clients accounted for more than 6,800 total DWIs before entering the program. Less than 2 percent of that client base had new DWIs while with the program.

“What this does and what you are trying to do is the ultimate in the protection of the citizenry against those people who are the offending drunk drivers,” said Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, who sponsored the original legislation that brought AADP to life in 1989.

“Many lives have been saved through this program and we expect that to continue.”

Yeiter estimates that 60 percent of program clients comply completely with the rules and are given a satisfactory discharge – only about one in 10 of those clients return to AADP.

Of the 40 percent who receive unsatisfactory discharges – given to those who fail to comply with any part of the program – Yeiter said about eight in 10 will find trouble again and likely return to AADP.

“We’ve got a revolving-door syndrome with about 40 percent of our clients,” he said. “It’s scary when you realize how many habitual offenders you have here.”

For local addictions specialist Daniel Lester and others in the mental health profession, the revolving-door syndrome raises the question of how effective AADP is in terms of rehabilitation. Trying to balance punishment with rehabilitation is not a good formula for finding long-term sobriety, Lester said.

“Everybody that works at AADP is connected to that probation piece of the court,” Lester said. “Here they are trying to treat people with a probation hat on. I just don’t see how that can be effective. I don’t think probation has a place in treatment.”

The program is not exclusively dependent on the Antabuse regimen. Additional addiction support is offered through mandated counseling and a required schedule of visits to sobriety support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Not surprising, the heaviest opposition to AADP comes from those in the program.

They question whether it is constitutional to order people into AADP before they are actually convicted of a crime. AADP brings defendants under court supervision before they are convicted or sentenced, a process that can take several months.

“Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?” wondered one current AADP client, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about retribution. “They say it’s three years but by the time you get sentenced, you’ve been in the program for six months. You spend half a year in the program before you are even sentenced to the program.”

As a condition of bail, the accused must report to the program within 24 hours after release from jail for immediate evaluation.

In a 2002 lawsuit, attorney Mark Keaton argued that the Allen County procedure runs contrary to Indiana’s constitutional requirement that bail be used only to ensure the defendant appears at trial and to protect the safety of others. Keaton argued on behalf of his client, Samuel Freeman, that “You cannot start the punishment before a person is convicted.”

Freemen was arrested on a DWI charge, released on his own recognizance and ordered to report to the program within 24 hours. He later failed a drug test and was sent back to jail.

Eventually, Freeman agreed to the conditions of AADP, and former Allen Circuit Court Judge Tom Ryan – one of the founding fathers of the program – declared the lawsuit moot. The constitutional issue has never been formally addressed by a court.

Allen Circuit Court Judge Tom Felts is responsible for sending many of the defendants into the program. He sees nothing unconstitutional about using the program as a condition of bail, especially considering the track record of many of its clients.

“To me, it’s a safety issue. People that are arrested for felony (DWIs) usually have a long history of alcohol abuse,” Felts said.

“It gets them started in a treatment program. It is just a safety issue for me, and I think I owe that to the citizens of Allen County.”

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