Celebrating National Drug Court Month |

Ask any of the 30 individuals who are currently enrolled in the Burke County Adult Recovery Court program, and they will tell you the last two years have been exceptionally hard for anyone fighting a substance use disorder.

From May 2019 to May 2020, over 80,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. According to the CDC, this was the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. It’s no secret that overdose deaths were already on the rise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the disruption to daily life that occurred during the pandemic brought on a staggering acceleration.

This sharp increase in overdose deaths highlights the need for essential services to remain accessible for people most at risk for an overdose. One of those essential services being drug court also known as recovery court. Drug courts are specialized court docket programs that target adults or youth who have been convicted of a non-violent crime and have alcohol or other drug dependency problems.

There are more than 3,500 drug courts across the United States and about half are adult treatment courts. Research from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has shown drug courts to help reduce recidivism and drug use among participants. Every dollar spent on drug courts yields more than two dollars in saving in the criminal justice system. National Drug Court month is recognized in May, but successes, challenges, and hardships of the program are felt all year long.

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Through a Bureau of Justice grant, the Burke County Adult Drug Court program was developed. Since its start in 2020, the program has had a total of 70 participants with eight graduations. On average, drug courts have 50-70% graduation rates, however the effects felt by the pandemic were great and many of the participants relapsed during the stay-at-home order. Regardless, drug court is one of the only courtrooms where you will find sanctions, tears of joy, rounds of applause, pleas of mercy, and graduation parties all coinciding with one another. The uniqueness of drug court helps guide participants into a lasting recovery — truly a second chance at life.

When Sarah (the name of the participant has been changed to protect her identity) signed her recovery court contract, she immediately started engaging and following the Burke County Recovery Court Program directives. She remained compliant, moved through three phases of the program, and continued to screen negative until the anniversary of her boyfriend’s overdose.

Sarah was now faced with the feeling of grief without illicit drugs to numb it. Unfortunately, these feelings caused her to relapse after 11 months of sobriety. For the next several months, Sarah continued to spiral. She started testing positive for drugs. She was also hanging out with people who were in active addiction, going to places where drugs were prevalent, and missing her scheduled group therapy sessions.

Her continued use eventually led to a Department of Social Services (DSS) case being opened and her son being placed in a temporary care of other family members. However, Sarah continued to fight and asked the Recovery Court team for help. Through group therapy, individual case management sessions with the Recovery Court coordinator, support from her Certified Peer Support Specialist, open communication with her probation officer, and bi-weekly check-ins with the judge, Sarah gained the skills she needed to maintain long- term sobriety.

Recently, her DSS case was closed, and Sarah was able to get her son back. She now understands that recovery is a lifetime commitment and continues to make connections with others in the Recovery Community through the Recovery Court Alumni group and at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Sarah will graduate from Burke County Recovery Court in July 2022.

This is just one of the hundreds of individual stories that demonstrate why recovery court programs are so critical in the effort to address addiction and related crime.

Recovery is never going to be a linear process. It involves a lot of unlearning, re-learning, developing a sense of self-awareness and more. It is a gradual process that requires patience and persistence. There are many others like Sarah who reside in our community, and like her, recovery court can be the link that connects them to a second chance. This year, let us celebrate National Drug Court Month with hope for the future and appreciation for the vital role this program plays within the Burke community.

Chae Moore is the health education supervisor and public information officer for the Burke County Health Department and grant manager for the Burke County Recovery Court grant. For more information about the Burke County Drug Court program, email Moore at chae.moore@burkenc.org.

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