Drug court helps addicts walk hard road

The road away from drug addiction is long, winding and strewn with obstacles.

By all accounts, people who want to escape drug addiction face an almost superhuman task. Trying to tackle that task alone often results in failure — at worst a tragedy, at best a wasted life.

The 86th Circuit Court launched a specialized drug treatment court just over a year ago with the intent of helping pull people away from the claws of addiction.

Prosecutor Bob Cooney said that when the opioid crisis accelerated in Grand Traverse County about five years ago, the crime rate went up for offenses like larceny, breaking and entering, domestic violence and child abuse. He pushed for the creation of a drug court with the goal of reducing both addiction and the crimes that come with it.

The program’s first participants now are entering their second year of involvement. Participants will spend a total of two or three years in the program, much like participants in the recovery court for alcohol-related offenses, said Judge Thomas J. Phillips, who administers the drug court.

The voluntary program is for non-violent offenders who live in the county and who’ve been diagnosed with substance use disorder.

Participants are required to check in with Phillips every two weeks so they can meet with the court’s team of prosecutors, attorneys, community corrections workers and therapists.

Many offenders who are offered a drug court plea don’t take it. They’re not ready to commit to a three-year program and would rather serve 90 days in jail, Cooney said.

But the drug court appears to be working for addicts who commit to the long term.

Three people have graduated to the second phase of the program. Another 18 are at various points in the first year of the program.

Drug court is a choice for some people (generally addicts, not drug dealers) being sentenced. Those who drop out usually do so within the first month or two, Phillips said.

Grand Traverse County secured a $50,000 state grant in late 2016 to help launch the drug court. That funding enabled the continuing efforts of Cooney, Phillips and all the workers who are helping county residents navigate the hard road away from addiction.

It is money — and effort — well spent.

Record-Eagle (Traverse City)