Washington County resident Brian Frutchey has been clean and sober for almost five years. He is a 2011 graduate of the Washington County Adult Drug Treatment Court, a voluntary program that provides defendants and probationers with a rigorous alternative to incarceration. "I loved it," Frutchey says. "It gave me a second chance."
Included in that chance are his children. They are present in his life because of his participation and successful graduation from the drug court program, he says. He is profoundly grateful for the fact and says that it is a major motivator for many of those who participate in the drug court program.
Drug court is no easy side‑step from incarceration and probation. Judge David Mitchell, who presides over the two courts held in Machias and Calais, explains that each participant must go through a four‑phase process with a case management team using the nationally recognized model Differential Substance Abuse Treatment (DSAT). Participants must attend weekly drug court sessions, undergo frequent drug and alcohol testing; attend required treatment meetings and self‑help groups; attend work, go to school or perform community service work; maintain financial obligations; and live in a stable and sober environment. In other words, Mitchell says, what is taken for routine behavior by much of society is for participants a set of skills that must be either relearned or learned for the first time.
"People come with such baggage," he explains. And that can include little to no support from friends and family. In their place the management team and the peer group of participants can begin to feel like the supportive network of family and friends who have their best interests at heart.
If participants "slip" they can be sanctioned, with the severity depending on the nature of the slip. It's a two‑pronged test, explains Mitchell. Will the treatment continue to work or is their violation such that they are a danger to society or themselves?
Abby Crockett, who works for Aroostook Mental Health Center as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and is a member of the drug court management team, says, "When the client goes against one of the requirements, we're looking at working with what's in the best interest of the client and how they will be accountable." How a participant discusses the slip during the weekly drug court sessions will directly influence the sanction. Mitchell says that whether they take responsibility for it before the drug or alcohol test or deny the test's findings will determine what happens in the court. They may have to start back at the beginning of the four phases or they may have to go to jail until they have a clean drug test. "If they violate with another crime, that's not a slip. That involves society," Mitchell says, and warrants different action.
Drug court works, say both Mitchell and Crockett. A 2012 report to the legislature confirms their belief in the program. In his 2012 report to the legislature, Hartwell Dowling, diversion and rehabilitation coordinator for the administrative office of the courts and the Adult Drug Treatment Court, notes that the program has a 60% graduation rate, as opposed to the national rate of 48%. In addition, the one‑year re‑arrest rate post‑graduation is at 17%, as opposed to a rate of 33% for the "traditionally adjudicated offender." This translates to a $3.30 savings for the state's judicial system for every dollar spent on a participant who goes through the drug court program. Corrections cost savings from the start of the program in 2001 through 2011 were close to $1 million, his report states. This number does not include the cost savings associated with infants born to drug-addicted mothers. From 2001 through 2010, Dowling notes that there were 52 babies born drug‑free to mothers in the drug court system. Nationally, the costs associated for caring for one baby born into drug addiction reaches about $1 million by the time he or she is 18 years old.
To provide the state with additional resources to combat Maine's growing drug problem, Governor Paul LePage has submitted legislation to provide funding for four new district court judge positions, 14 investigative agents positions in the Department of Public Safety and four assistant attorney general positions within the Office of the Attorney General. "We must confront this troubling epidemic," says LePage.
Drug court participants can be referred to the program through an attorney, a crisis service, themselves or a probation officer, among others. Frutchey was referred by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who was a graduate of drug court as well. A number of requirements must be met to be eligible for the program, says Crockett.
Once a client is in the program the process begins. "They're learning to work with groups and other individuals struggling with substance abuse triggers, learning coping skills, role plays," Crockett says. She adds, "It's all about learned behavior. How can we relearn to manage emotions, understand risk situations" and learn to cope without turning to substances.
Frutchey notes that stress is a big one for him. The program "taught me a lot." Meditation is one skill he learned to help with stress. He also had to stop "hanging out with old friends." Most importantly he had to listen and understand what was at stake.
Frutchey has held down a full‑time job for four years now. "I've got trust back, respect back." He continues to be a part of the AA community. He says, "The things you're capable of when you're clean and sober are amazing." He pauses. "I for one know what people are capable of. I'm living life, a really good life."