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New Ulm Medical Center

A new future away from substance abuse

Zachary Thomas (right) chatted recently with Substance Abuse Treatment Counselor David Gilman at New Ulm Medical Center.

Zachary Thomas (right) chatted recently with Substance Abuse Treatment Counselor David Gilman at New Ulm Medical Center. After abusing drugs and alcohol for almost half of his young life, Thomas is gainfully employed and looking forward to college and a career, thanks in part to the Drug Court program.

To find out more about Drug Court or the substance abuse program at New Ulm Medical Center, call 507-217-5118.

By the time he was 20, Zachary Thomas abused drugs and alcohol so often he was out of options.

“I thought for sure I’d be dead before I was 21,” Thomas said.

Thanks to New Ulm’s Drug Court, Thomas now has a chance to turn his life around.

At 21, Thomas is gainfully employed and looking forward to graduating from the program. He plans to attend college and start a career.

Abuse started in childhood

Thomas started taking drugs when he was 11 and drinking when he was 12.

“By the time I was 15, I was on and off probation,” he said. His home life was difficult and he often found himself with no place to live. He spent time in and out of treatment centers.

Thomas was arrested one night in 2011 when he went out to help a friend while high on drugs and alcohol. He was convicted and sentenced to jail.

The Drug Court option

After 13 days in prison, he requested to go to inpatient treatment. He had spent three months in inpatient treatment and was living in a halfway house when he was accepted into Drug Court.

But before he could start the program, he started abusing again and was kicked out of the halfway house. He was sent back to jail.

In November 2012, he was once again given the option of participating in Drug Court or serving more time in jail.

This time he chose Drug Court and has been successful.

Drug Court is problem solving court geared at taking nonviolent offenders with chemical dependency issues and providing them with structure, supervision, and treatment. A team consisting of a judge, probation agents, attorneys, law enforcement, and representatives from social services, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment services meets weekly to discuss the participants’ progress and how to best meet their needs in providing the structure necessary for their success in the program. Sometimes this involves providing incentives for positive progress or sanctions to address negative behaviors.

In addition to the Drug Court Team meeting weekly, the participants go before the judge in the courtroom to discuss their progress. The Drug Court participants move through four phases as they progress through the program. As they move through the phases, they have fewer obligations to complete and become more independent.

Drug Court participants must submit to random drug tests, counseling and curfews. They also must get a job – and keep it.

With the help of counselors, Thomas found a couple of jobs working on cars and in a factory “I don’t think I would have gotten the jobs if it weren’t for them,” he said.

Thomas was able to return to school and earn his high school diploma. He graduated from the Riverbend Alternative Learning Center in New Ulm last May.

A team of support

When in court, the judge asks a lot of questions, Thomas said. “He asks what I’m doing and how I’m doing. When I was in school, he had a ton of questions about my grades and what I was learning to make sure I was doing what I needed to.”

On average, it costs about $16,000 to shepherd each participant through the Drug Court program. But that’s a fraction of the cost to incarcerate them for a year, David Gilman, substance abuse treatment counselor from the New Ulm Medical Center who works with the Brown County Drug Court participants said. “Considering many of the participants have multiple years of prison hanging over their heads, it makes a lot of sense from a financial standpoint.” More importantly, Gilman said, it helps people like Thomas get their lives back. “Every single graduate we’ve had has improved markedly from being in the program,” Gilman said. “They gain the tools they need to become productive members of the community and be a lot happier with their lives.”

Currently, about 30 people are in the Brown, Nicollet and Watonwan Drug Court program.

Graduation is near

Participants can be in the program from 18 months to two years. Some participants have more progress to make than others. “Everyone starts at a different point and everyone has different capabilities,” Gilman said. “It’s a team decision when you graduate.”

Thomas has more freedoms now than when he started because he has shown he can make good choices. He should graduate from the program this spring.

Thomas plans to enroll in the McNally Smith College of Music in Saint Paul, Minn. in the fall to study music production. Given the impressive progress he’s made, Gilman said he has no doubt Thomas’ dream will become a reality. Thomas said he knows why. “Without the help of Drug Court, I wouldn’t have made it this far,” he said.


Source: New Ulm Medical Center - Health Edition
Reviewed by: David Gilman, Substance Abuse Treatment Counselor
First Published: 02/25/2013
Last Reviewed: 02/25/2013