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New Ulm Medical Center

Drug court helps people get their lives back

To learn more about the substance abuse program at New Ulm Medical Center, call 507-217-5118.

“Drug Court opened my eyes to a new way of life, a way of life being sober. I never thought I could live without drugs and now I can’t believe how I could live with drugs.”
- KK, a graduate of drug court

KK’s story is typical of drug abusers. She started experimenting with drugs when she was a teenager. At 19, she tried cocaine. Soon she was into meth.

“Meth became my life and soon took over,” she wrote in a paper she prepared during her treatment.

As a result of her habit, KK was in and out of jail on drug charges and had lost contact with her children.

When KK was offered the opportunity to participate in drug court or return to jail, she thought it would be an easy way out. “I didn’t have my heart into it and didn’t think it could help me,” she wrote.

KK quickly realized she was wrong. Looking back, she’s glad.

KK, now 24, had to work really hard, but drug court helped her find the path to sobriety. “I am living a sober life, have been sober for more than three years now and doing great,” she wrote.

Drug court offers a second chance

The option of participating in drug court is given to carefully chosen non-violent offenders. “They are told, if they agree to participate and successfully complete drug court, they don’t have to go to prison,” said James P. Johnson Jr., program manager of substance abuse services at New Ulm Medical Center. NUMC is the exclusive treatment provider for the drug courts in the three area counties – Blue Earth, Brown and Watonwan.

Drug court isn’t the answer for everyone, Johnson said. But drug court has an impressive success rate, and for people like KK, it can be a godsend, he added.

Almost everyone who has been through the program shows marked improvement, and is able to lead more productive lives, he said.

Florida roots

May is National Drug Court Month. Drug court was started in the late 70s in Florida. “The judges there were sick of seeing generations come through their courts – grandfather, father, grandson. It got to the point where the judges got to know the family. They were sick of it and decided they wanted to try something different,” Johnson said.

So they brought together all the players – offenders, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement and treatment providers – and said, “How do we fix this problem?” Their answer was drug court, where offenders are closely supervised as they go through intense rehabilitation.

Participants are subject to regular and random drug testing. They must undergo intensive treatment to get and stay clean and sober. They must get a job or enroll in school. And they must appear each week before a judge who reviews their progress.

The program is divided into four phases and includes an alumni program for graduates. “The program is designed for 18 months. However, some people have stayed in as long as 36 months,” Johnson noted. The team overseeing the participants decides when they can move to the next phase.

Brown County has two drug courts – one for adults 18 and up and one for adolescents who are 14 or older. Blue Earth County’s drug court has been in operation for about seven years and has about 60 participants. The enrollment is smaller in the other two counties.

The program is also open to people convicted of driving while intoxicated and parents facing abuse/neglect charges in civil court.

Goal is to stay sober, become productive

Most people who enter drug court are motivated because they know if they are successful, they can stay out of prison, Johnson said. “We understand that and try to change their motivation over the course of time. We want their goal to be to stay clean and be a productive member of society.”

The rigorous rehabilitation program not only helps the participants, but it also helps the community, Johnson said. “There is a statistic that says for every dollar you spend on drug court, the community gets a $7 return. That’s because the community doesn’t have to pay to house the offender in jail. And when participants kick their habits, they can become productive members of society and contribute to the general welfare of the community.”

When KK first enrolled, she feared she would mess up. “But I saw that if you are sober you will do just fine,” she wrote.

KK said drug court helped her see that being sober is a better way of life. “It gave me another chance to live,” she wrote. “Life is good.”

Source: New Ulm Medical Center - Health Edition
Reviewed by: James P. Johnson Jr., program manager of substance abuse services at New Ulm Medical Center.
First Published: 05/01/2013
Last Reviewed: 05/01/2013