- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — After 31 years as a heroin and cocaine addict, which included 22 methadone programs and numerous tries at detox centers, drug treatment programs and halfway houses, James Craig finally found a way to get clean.

He became one of the first addicts to enter the Maryland drug court program about 11 years ago and is now one of the success stories — drug free and the owner of a flourishing demolition company in Baltimore.

“At the age of 43, I had nothing,” Mr. Craig said. “I was uneducated, unskilled. Drug court put me back in tune with life.”

The first drug court was set up in 1994 in Baltimore’s circuit court. Since then, most Maryland counties have instituted the court or are making plans to establish one. There are drug courts at the district and circuit level and juvenile drug courts. The newest are DUI courts that handle drivers with serious or repeat infractions for drunken driving.

Two years ago, Chief Judge Robert Bell of the Court of Appeals established a Drug Treatment Court Commission to help counties in planning and administering drug courts.

Gray Barton, executive director of the commission, said the court has become an alternative for addicts who would otherwise face jail time. Those who pass a screening test face intensive counseling and treatment and direct supervision by a judge.

Mr. Barton said the judge’s involvement with the supervision and treatment is what sets the program apart from the standard methods of supervision through the state parole and probation office.

He said judges can also swiftly mete out rewards and punishments. For example, a failed drug test can result in revoked privileges or a return to jail. Good behavior can be rewarded with a gift certificate. “It sounds corny, but that’s what works,” Mr. Barton said.

Clif Burton, Baltimore’s adult court coordinator, agrees.

“These are people who are used to going into court and getting sentenced or yelled at, and here is a judge who will take some time to talk to them, to praise them if they are doing something good, to sanction them if they are not doing well,” he said.

Pamela, a graduate of the Anne Arundel County program who asked that an identifying name not be used, said that “messing up and having to go see a judge for some reason is kind of daunting.”

Pamela, 42, has been clean since entering the program three years ago.

“I came from an upper-middle-class home,” she said. “I never thought it would happen to me.” She and her husband, an electrical engineer, are college educated. She has two children.

Her problems started after her mother died from cancer. She became depressed and a cousin introduced her to heroin, to which she eventually developed a daily habit.

Pamela was addicted for two years before entering a treatment program. Though she quit heroin, she started using cocaine.

Her association with drug court began after she was stopped while high on cocaine. She was offered the court as an alternative to prison, accepted it and entered a treatment program.

Mr. Barton said the court might seem like a “hug-a-thug” program, but 12 to 18 months of unannounced drug tests, meetings and court appearances are indeed difficult.

“A good number of people opt out and take a prison sentence,” he said.

Mr. Barton said a study of the two oldest programs, in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County, show drug court graduates performed better than a comparison sample of those who did not go through the program. The drug court graduates had fewer arrests for drug offenses, robberies and property theft.

Mr. Craig said he could not have broken his habit without the drug court.

“I had tried just about everything, from methadone to religion to all types of different fellowships,” he said. “Because it was set up by the courts, I had to go. I had to go to treatment. It provided a structure and a foundation for me.”

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