MADISON — From a drug addict to a dreamer to a goal to reality — that is a journey Boone County Drug Court graduate Adam Mitchell talked about during a ceremony honoring him and four other Boone-Lincoln Drug Court graduates.
“When I was addicted to drugs, I didn’t care,” he said. “Now, I am proud of myself and I thank everyone in drug court and others that believed in me. I care about myself and others now.”
Celebrating the success of the most recent drug court graduates from Boone and Lincoln counties were two juvenile graduates, three adult graduates, their family, friends, students from local schools, as well as U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other state and local officials and dignitaries.
“Drug court has been in Boone County since 2008 and despite what some may say, it has been very successful,” said 25th Judicial Circuit Judge William Thompson. “With the drug epidemic facing our county, our state and our country, it’s nice to celebrate and tell the positive stories of success.”
West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin said over 1,200 people have graduated from West Virginia drug courts.
“The statistics show the recurrence rate of those that complete drug court is very, very low with both juveniles and adults,” Benjamin said.
Manchin said he has made the state’s drug epidemic issue his top priority.
“God bless all you graduates and those that helped them and supported them,” he said. “You have changed your life for the better and are now great examples for others to follow.”
Manchin said West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths.
“Just in the past decade, West Virginia’s drug overdose death rate has increased over 600 percent,” he said. “Each year, drug abuse is costing our nation $53.5 billion dollars. Everyone in this room has someone in their family or friends or knows someone effected by illegal drug activity and prescription drug abuse. I am here to support these five graduates and their amazing accomplishment and those fighting this epidemic as well. This is a fight we must win.”
Mitchell, now 22 years old, told those in attendance that he started on using drugs when he was just 11-years-old.
“I was around it and I thought it was cool and that everyone was having fun, but as time passed I realized that it was destroying me and those that loved and cared about me as well,” he said. “Drug court helped me to understand that I was a drug addict, what I could do to change that and gave me the support I needed to get clean and sober. I like who I am now and the direction my life is heading.”
Mitchell said he always dreamed of joining the military and serving his country. Now, his dream has become his goal.
“I am talking to a recruiter now about joining the U.S. Army as a mechanic,” he said. “I am now working on turning my dream into a reality.”
Before the drug court graduation ceremony, Manchin met with many Boone County community groups, organizations, law enforcement, county officials and concerned residents about what he could present to the U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits Charleston.
“I don’t agree with all of the president’s policies, especially on the future of coal in our nation’s energy plans and policies, but I do appreciate him coming to West Virginia to talk about what can be done about the drug epidemic facing our nation,” Manchin said.
Manchin was told about the poor economy, loss of jobs, lack of foster care, children in the court system with drug abusing parents that are stuck in a slow moving system, the lack of sober living and rehab facilities in the region, as well as drug testing those receiving federal benefits and the failure of treatment drugs like Suboxone and Methadone.
“Most of our law enforcement work and indictments, probably 80 percent or more, are drug related,” said Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph.
Randolph said that while Xanax, Hydrocodone, Oxycontin and other pain prescription medications were still prevelant in Boone County, the new trends show Heroin, Flacca and Suboxone were on the rise.
Boone County state Senator Ron Stollings, who is also a medical doctor in Madison, says new ways to treat those addicted and those with chronic pain must be looked at by both doctors and the government.
“Doctors must look at the benefit versus risk ratio when treating pain,” he said. “We have to look at the cost of physical therapy, shot therapy and chiropractic services that many times are not covered or poorly covered even by good medical insurance policies. When we just cut off those with chronic pain because they can’t afford other options and services, then that’s when they look to Heroin and other street drugs.”
Manchin was also told about flaws in the Medicaid and Medicare payment systems that are value based on high patient statisfaction versus basing it on the standard of care the patient gets.
“If we give them the prescriptions they want, then the patient gives us a good rating and we get reimbursed by the government, but if we give them what they need and they are upset and give us a poor rating then we risk not getting reimbursed,” another medical official said. “It should be a standard of care based system.”
Manchin also heard about the efforts of faith-based organizations and groups in the community that have trouble receiving federal grant funding due to separation of church and state laws.
“I will be talking with President Obama about the concerns and issues you have brought to my attention today,” he said. “We lead the nation in drug abuse and if the president is wanting to help us regarding this issue, then we need to take advantage of this opportunity. We must win this fight against drugs.”
Manchin said one was was to change the way we think about drug addiction and drug addicts.
“Thirty years ago we thought of it as a crime and just threw people in jail, but today we must think of it as an illness and a disease that we can fight, treat and cure,” he said.
Fred Pace is an editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-369-1165, ext. 1661, in Madison; at 304-752-6950, ext. 1729 in Logan; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @fcpace62 on Twitter.