Faces of Addiction: Drug Court helps overcome addiction

Posted at 9:13 PM, May 07, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-08 01:45:37-04

SALT LAKE CITY - Millions of people visit websites featuring victims of drug addiction, showing the dangers of substance abuse. But there are some drug addicts whose photos show a more positive picture.

In Utah, many of those pictures are taken after an addict completes Drug Court, one of the biggest hurdles on the path to sobriety. Those "before" mugshots serve as a reminder of who they never want to be again.

Drug Court is a court-sponsored program in Utah that tries to reverse the downward spiral and celebrates former addicts' sobriety. It was created in 1996 after prosecutors and judges saw a dramatic rise in drug-related arrests and convictions.

They determined that unless substance abuse ends, fines and jail time are unlikely to prevent future criminal activity.

Since its creation, more than 2,300 Utahns have gone through Drug Court. The judges involved call it a common sense, cost effective way to reverse the face of addiction in our community.

"The best day if my week is the day I have Drug Court because I get to see people who are working hard to beat their addiction," said Judge Randall Skanchy, a Third District Court judge who works with Drug Court.

Drug courts, through frequent testing and court supervision, focus on eliminating drug addiction as a long-term solution to crime.

"Jail doesn't rehabilitate people, they need treatment, it's cheaper. I wish we had the money for treatment beds, not jail beds," said Judge Katie Bernards-Goodman. "When they get to that treatment bed we see people that may have gone into that bed not wanting Drug Court, not wanting to change but with time they get there and they make that change and it's good to see."

Most addicts who go through Drug Court credit the program with saving their lives.

"I thank God every day I had this opportunity to be in Drug Court because I found myself and I got my family back," said Stephanie Bennett, Drug Court graduate.

Drug Court graduate Jacob Downey says the program helped teach him responsibility and gave him a new life path.

"Accountability, dependability and responsibility," Downey said. "In addition to these traits, Drug Court gave me my family back, a house to live in, a job to sustain me and most important a purpose in life and a life to live it."

Shylee Rowe started using heroin as a teenager and began to wonder whether death was the only way out, but then she participated in Drug Court.

"Drug Court was really good for me. It was definitely a program I took some bumps in but it was one of the only things that could save my life," she said.

Tony Johnson became hooked on methamphetamine and cocaine. Now he's hoping to help others overcome their addictions.

"Today I feel comfortable in my own skin, I feel worthy of recovery and the gift recovery has brought to my life," he said. "When I talk to alumni when I first came they said, 'If we can do this so can you, we were just like you.' And now I get to say that to someone else and that feels good."

On average, the judges say more than 70 percent of those who graduate from Drug Court stay clean and out of the criminal justice system.