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Carbon drug court offers alternatives

By COLLIN MCRANN
Sun Advocate writer

As reported last week in the Sun Advocate, prescription drug abuse is on the rise in Carbon County.

But prescriptions and other drugs are only a beginning to the slippery slope that is addiction.

It's difficult to determine exactly the amount of abuse. However, it is possible to look at the local judicial and correctional systems to find some information about what happens to abusers once in the system.

Drug treatment is something that has changed within the last 20 years and, while some systems are proven more effective than others, the overall problem is constantly changing.

While addictive substances might always be around and abused, recovery from them has seen a variety of innovation notably with the invention of drug courts.

The state of Utah has a total of 25 drug courts, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP).

Nationwide, drug courts number around 1,621.

But one question that persists about drug courts is whether or not the programs are effective.

To answer the question, it is important to understand what the drug courts are, and who is admitted into the programs.

Simplified, a drug court is a system that is be applied to convicted drug users of the regular courts.

To qualify for a drug court, a person must show a potential and desire for recovery.

Most drug courts nationwide - including the program in Carbon County - report a success rate ranging from around 27 percent to 66 percent, according to the United States Government Accountability Office in 2005.

Although the rates might be somewhat general, 7th District Judge George M. Harmond believes the drug court system and treatment program are effective.

"Most people who don't receive treatment are repeats within three years," said the judge.

Defendants must apply to the drug court program. And while drug courts are intended to help addicts, the programs are also strict, both on who is accepted, as well as penalties placed on participants.

"The drug court is a system that people enter into and in return for giving up some rights, they are supervised," said Judge Harmond. "They are required to have a job, pay court fees and submit samples (for drug testing)."

Users are referred and accepted by the court. Judge Harmond indicated that most of the participants accepted into the program are high risk and high need individuals.

If necessary, the court can refer people to inpatient treatment if their situation becomes more serious.

Inpatient treatment is typically based on what a person can afford, and if money is an issue, they are put on a "sliding scale" payment program, according to Judge Harmond.

If, however, an individual simply abuses probation, the drug courts have authority to immediately sentence the person to jail time.

But if probation abuses frequently occur and the situation begins to deteriorate, the individuals may have to face their original criminal convictions in the district court.

Fighting drug addictions, as with many problems, is something the judge believes must be solved through "treatment and prevention."

However, different drugs present different problems. While the judge does not believe that methamphetamine in Carbon County is on the decline, he has seen a rise in heroin use.

But Judge Harmond adds that meth is by far the most difficult drug to treat in terms of its addictive nature as well as the physical harm inflicted upon users.

"All that changes are the names (of counties)," said Judge Harmond, referring to the types of rural drug problems and charges in Utah.

The judge would like to see more preventative measures taken with addictive drugs, although he does not expect it to happen.

"There's not much talk of prevention," concluded Judge Harmond. "It's a difficult problem."




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