Just ask Dylan Greene, Joshua Hammer and Alvis Lowe — the first to graduate from the Washington County Recovery Court operated in General Sessions Court — or the four others getting ready to finish the program.
Greene, Hammer and Lowe graduated in November after having completed the intensive drug recovery program in 18 months.
Recovery Court Coordinator Megan Price, who took the program’s helm after that first graduation, said the four-phase program is designed for adults with substance abuse issues and misdemeanor criminal charges.
“They are brought to us as a result of their legal charges, but they they don’t necessarily have to be drug-related charges but most of the time they are,” Price said. “We do an assessment on them to see if they are a fit for the program, and if the team decides to bring them in, they start into phase one.”
The first step of phase one could be a 28-day inpatient treatment program if the participant has been using drugs, but if they’re clean and the assessment team determines treatment isn’t necessary, they start immediately. Outpatient treatment includes four days a week for three hours each day at Frontier Health for men and three days a week for four hours each at Families First for the women.
Washington County received a $70,000 grant to plan and launch Recovery Court, which including hiring the first director, Ann Snodgrass, in July 2013. The first participants started February 2014 and so far, Greene, Hammer and Lowe are the only participants to graduate.
“We’ve had 36 participants with three graduates and four on track to graduate within six to eight months,” Price said. The three graduates are “clean, sober and law-abiding. We have a zero percent recidivism rate right now.”
The program is similar to the Day Reporting Center, operated through a federal grant — Targeted Community Crime Reduction Program — by the state probation office. That grant, administered through the Johnson City Police Department, ran its course but the DRC was so successful the Tennessee Department of Correction picked it up and will continue to fund and operate it. The main difference is Recovery Court is for people with misdemeanor charges while the DRC is a last-ditch effort for felony offenders to live a drug- and crime-free life.
Price said for some Recovery Court participants, they agree to go because it’s a way to stay out of jail for the time being. Of course, if they violate any rules of Recovery Court, incarceration can be a form of shock punishment.
“One of the girls on track to graduate said she came in to avoid jail time,” Price said. “She’ll be honest and tell you that, but now she says she knows she wasn’t going to make it if she didn’t do something different. She’s clean for over 28 months now.”
That particular participant was no stranger to the court system. She had been in and out of trouble, but Recovery Court became her lifeline, Price said.
Often times what gets people into Recovery Court is an opioid addiction. And while law enforcement and court officials are doing what they can to deal with the aftermath as health officials are trying to change the ready availability of the drugs.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf has introduced an opioid action plan to address the growing epidemic of opioid abuse. That plan consists of seven basic steps, inkling:
- Expand the use of advisory committee to review any new drug application for an opioid that does not have abuse-deterrent properties.
- Develop warnings and safety information for immediate release opioid labeling.
- Strengthen postmarket data requirements for companies to develop data on the long-term impact of using extended release or long acting opioids.
- Update risk evaluation and mitigation strategy program.
- Expand access to abuse-deterrent formulations to discourage abuse.
- Support better treatment options.
- Reassess the risk-benefit approval framework for opioid use, and make available to patients information about the risks of misuse for the patient as well as others who obtain the medications.
“We are determined to help defeat this epidemic through a science-based and continuously evolving approach,” Califf said. “This plan contains real measures this agency can take to make a difference in the lives of so many people who are struggling under the weight of this terrible crisis. Things are getting worse, not better, with the epidemic of opioid misuse, abuse and dependence.
“It’s time we all took a step back to look at what is working and what we need to change to impact this crisis.”
Califf praised the efforts of East Tennessee State University and university's new Center for Prescription Drug Abuse and Prevention and Treatment, touting the collaborative effort of local educators and healthcare providers to treat substance abuse.
"The spirit of collaboration is really a key thing. It's been fantastic," Callif said in a recent visit to Johnson City. "This is going to spread, I think, to a lot of other areas. I encouraged the group here to think carefully about an Appalachian consortium that might work together across the region. We need to work together to solve the problems.”