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First in the fight: Coffee County Probation Office can be the first to spot drug addiction problems

Posted on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Coffee County Central High School criminal justice intern Destanley Warner, left, is pictured with Coffee County Probation deputy director Linda Baker and Middle Tennessee social worker intern Leslie Bates (staff photo by John Coffelt).


Staff Writer
John Coffelt

The relationship between property crimes and drug abuse is pretty straightforward, but often it’s often those lesser crimes can indicate a dependency issue that if left untreated can lead deeper journey into the downward spiral of drug addiction.

For the staff, especially deputy probation officer Barbara Smith, helping people with drug problems is personal.

“I got the drug board started after my daughter overdosed on heroin. She’s still with us, she’s in a half-way house right now. It’s been rough, but if I can just help one person.”

Smith said that it’s often a challenge connecting people with the help they need. Her drug board in the Justice Center first floor hallway is something of a mural to the devotion the office shows to fighting drug abuse.

“Currently, I’ve got six in treatment and a couple more that I’m trying to get into treatment,” she said.

“In Manchester, [addiction] is the elephant in the room. The thing is, addiction doesn’t discriminate. Just because you may work at the Air Force base or be an attorney doesn’t mean that you can’t become an addict. The community needs to do more.

“It could be me sitting on the other side of this desk and failing a drug test. I don’t feel I’m any better than they are.”

She said that the services out there are sometimes hard find.

“We have meetings for families, meetings for addicts, for alcoholics – how do you find them? When it’s in the paper, it’s a little [announcement], so we want to get the word out that there’s a lot of people out there that need support.

“It can’t be the elephant in the room, just because it doesn’t affect you.”

She said that she too is familiar with the sigma of drug addiction. When you’re the parent of an addict, no one bakes you a casserole.

“It’s really difficult and families need to know that they’re not alone. Addicts need to know they’re not alone. That there’s help out there and they’re no less of a person than if they had diabetes or cancer.

“It’s an uphill battle, but as long as they want to fight, we’ll fight with them. I don’t believe jail is the place for them to be.”

She said that the first step is admitting you have a problem.

“I can most of the time get people to tell me they have a problem, even when they will lie tooth and nail, fight it to end. I just put my arm around them and say ‘Just be honest, for the grace of God, go high.’ ”

Probation deputy director Linda Baker said that there is a common misconception about the role the office plays in the community.

“Sometimes citizens don’t know exactly what we do; they think only that probation puts people in jail,” Baker said. “We don’t do that. We do a lot of other things.”

Among the requirements of probation can be batterer intervention assessment, GED help, vocation help, and drug and rehab components.

“Our probation office is a little different than probation offices in the past,” Baker said.

“We actually give our clients a timeslot. That is their time, 30 minutes to start.”

She said that sessions vary. Some clients need a strong hand and others need a softer touch, but they all need help to get back on track.

“Hopefully, something that we’ve said, not something that we did, will spark a change in you.”

One of the key pushes that Baker hopes to see in the community is the Faith-Based Initiative meeting program that will take place at First Presbyterian Church, from 6 to 8 p.m., May 4.

The meeting is organized by state the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ Dr. Monty Burks, who hopes to connect local religious groups to help those recovering from addiction through the State of Tennessee’s Faith-Based Initiative.

“Addiction is not a moral failure. Addiction is a disease – a disease that can be fought with the right set of circumstances, buffers and opportunities,” Burks said during the recent Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition Summit, as he shared his own story of overcoming addiction.

Burks suggested that churches across the state are already logistically suited to fight addiction.

For more information on the program, contact or contact First Presbyterian Church at 728-3009.