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Drug Court helps addicts help themselves, one step at a time

December 8th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Rachel Kenley

LOGAN – First District Court Judge Thomas Willmore sat in Courtroom Five Tuesday, but instead of handing out sentences he gave out advice. Willmore checked in with Cache County’s Drug Court participants, just as he has done nearly every Tuesday for 11 years. After chatting briefly with each person, he asked, “How long have you been drug and alcohol free?” Every answer — from eight days to 176 weeks — received a round of applause from all present.

This friendly, accepting and supportive courtroom attitude could be one of the contributing factors in the drug court program’s success. But Willmore isn’t too nice, however, since drug court was set up as a last chance for drug addicts before they are sent to prison. Sometimes tough love is necessary, such as when the judge gave a woman an assignment to complete and announced, “If she doesn’t, send her back and I’ll send her to prison.”

Sheryl Andreasen, drug court manager for Cache and Box Elder counties, has been working in her position for ten and a half years. In that time, she said, Cache County has graduated 400 addicts through their drug court program.

“Our recidivism rate is really, really good,” Andreasen said. “Only 15 to 20 percent use after completion. If they hadn’t gone through drug court, 85 to 90 percent would have ended up in prison.”

Utah’s drug court system consists of five stages and takes at least a year and a half to complete. The first stage, called orientation and assessment, requires participation in an intensive outpatient program, or IOP. IOP is held four days a week for four hours a day. Addicts are also required to come to court and check in with Judge Willmore each week.

When the first stage is completed, addicts embark on the second stage, stabilization, and begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Sponsors are identified to serve as a resource and help to the addicts. During this phase, participants must also earn their high school diploma if they haven’t done so already, and obtain full-time employment.

The third phase is called maintenance, and is followed by two transition phases. As drug court participants move through the phases, they gradually become more independent from the counselors and resources the court offers.

“[Drug Court] teaches you to be responsible for yourself and for your family,” Andreasen said.

In the spirit of the 12 step AA and NA programs that drug court works so closely with, addicts get help to become clean, one step at a time.

“Sometimes it’s really overwhelming for an addict to think about never using ever again, even though that’s the ultimate goal,” one attendee expressed in court.

The fact remains that the program does successfully help addicts reach this point. “I am a staunch supporter of drug court,” Andreasen said, “it works!”

After addicts complete all five phases of drug court, they can graduate. Each graduating class gets a big grand graduation, Andreasen said, because “it’s a big deal when you get clean and are able to stay clean.”

In addition to getting and staying clean, drug court offers graduates another gift: the dismissal of their charges. “That’s a real incentive for everyone who comes into the program,” Andreasen said.

Applicants to drug court must have a prior felony to qualify. Contact the Bear River Health Department for more information at www.bearriverhealthdepartment.com.


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