- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) - While growing up in Baltimore, Najah Menapace was surrounded by drug abuse.

“When I was 25, I started using drugs,” she said. “My whole family is on drugs. That’s all I ever knew. That’s all I was ever raised around.”

She moved to Ohio hoping to escape, but just switched drugs. An abusive relationship with the father of her son led her to join family in West Virginia, where she switched her drug of choice again.

Fourteen years after starting her drug use, Menapace on Feb. 14 became the first graduate of Cabell County Drug Court’s Women’s Empowerment and Addiction Recovery (WEAR) program.

Courtrooms, the majority of the time, are filled with nerves, anger, fear and sadness, but on Feb. 14, Cabell County Family Court Judge Patricia Keller’s courtroom was filled with love and hope as Menapace joined five others in successfully completing the drug court program. The other “graduates” were Joshua Hysell, Kyle Genet, Gary McCullough, Brett Shepherd and Ryan McCoy.

“It saved my life,” Menapace said of the program.

Drug court is a specially designed program with the goal of reducing recidivism and substance abuse. The program is intense, requiring weekly meetings, random drug screens, support group meetings and employment, as well as other demands.

WEAR, which began in 2015, is designed specifically for women who are involved in prostitution to support a drug habit and follows the same one-year model as drug court. It has additional resources for women, including domestic violence counseling, family planning courses and trauma treatment. Funded through grants, WEAR is the first program of its kind in West Virginia.

“I have been in and out of recovery for eight years,” Menapace said. “I’ve been in recovery houses and while living there, I would do great, but as soon as I would move out and be on my own, I would fall within a month. I don’t know how this program is different. I think it is because you have structure, but you also have freedom, too. You aren’t under the safe haven of a recovery house. I have my own apartment, and I have a job. I have freedom. I still have the choice - if I wanted to use, I could.”

Menapace said telling herself that she got the opportunity to do drug court, not that she had to do it, made the difference.

“I look at it as a blessing,” she said. “There are only so many spots in this program, and I get one of them. I just kept telling myself I get to do this.”

McCullough was also thankful for the opportunity.

“I wanted to address my circuit court judge, Judge (Chris) Chiles,” McCullough said during the ceremony. “I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this program. I spent the majority of 2015 in and out of your courtroom having messed up epically because you gave me chance after chance on bond. So when drug court was on the table the last time I was in jail, I was for sure you were fed completely up with me and were sending me to prison. I just want to thank you; you gave me this opportunity. My life is completely changed around. I feel better than I have my whole life.”

Hysell thanked the naloxone advocates in the room, including Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, and Jim Johnson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for naloxone,” Hysell said. “I’m not going to lie; I’ve probably been brought back 12 to 14 times. I was at the lowest point in my life. I know a lot of cops still don’t like me because you fight when they bring you back. But I owe my life to it, and I thank you guys.”

Genet said completing the program was all a matter of realizing it was for those who were willing to complete it. He said he realized he would never graduate from his disease, but he could either die with it or die from it.

For those in the program, Menapace said they should take advantage of all the resources and be honest, even if they stumble, and remember the blessing they have been given.


Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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