For Raymond Turner, addiction started at the age of 12.
Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, he lived with his mother and his brother. They had to move often because they were often “kicked out.”
“We lived in motels and places for short periods of time,” Turner said.
“We got this house one time, and me and my brother got to paint our rooms the color we wanted,” Turner said. “Before the paint had dried, we had to get out of that house because the landlord had found out something about us. I thought we wouldn’t have to move if I could make some money.”
Drugs were the fastest way for making money Turner knew, so he became a dealer.
“I got into dealing drugs at the age of 12,” he said. “I would smuggle marijuana – that’s how it started. Fast-forward, at 15, I started dealing cocaine. I started making money, got a place to live, got some cars.”
He also started using drugs.
He was doing well financially, but ended up in federal prison.
Several years ago, Turner moved to Coffee County, hoping to leave narcotics in the past and start a new life. However, drugs pulled him back again and he continued to abuse them.
He wanted to stop but couldn’t.
One of the ways Turner tried to fight the dependency was through the use of Suboxone, a medication offered in some rehabilitation facilities to reduce the symptoms of addiction and withdrawal.
Suboxone contains a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid medication, and naloxone blocks the effects of opioids.
“I went through the Suboxone treatment trying to get off the pills,” Turner said. “But I just traded addictions once again. Inside, I wanted to stop this – the madness that was destroying my family – but couldn’t.”
When Turner ended up in Coffee County Jail and started participating in the Coffee County Recovery Court program, also known as the drug court, he found a way to stay clean of drugs.
“I have been in recovery for two years,” Turner said.
The recovery court is a two-year treatment program for nonviolent offenders living in Coffee County whose current offense is a result of illegal drug use or who have a history of drug abuse.
“We have an intensive outpatient treatment,” said Mike Lewis, executive director of the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation. “The state monitors what we do and the treatment is funded primarily through state grants.”
The recovery court also provides sober living housing, said Lewis.
“We do drug testing and provide individual therapy or outpatient therapy,” Lewis said. “If folks need residential treatment, we’ll arrange for a treatment and coordinate to get them where they need to go.”
The drug court also partners with recovery communities in Nashville and Murfreesboro, according to Lewis.
“Everything is fairly individualized, as far as treatments go; we try to meet people where they are, and help them get healthy, grow and mature their skills,” he said.
The program started 12 years ago. Judge Timothy Brock was one of the founders.
“Judge Brock became frustrated with people continuing to come in with repeat offences; nothing seemed to change,” Lewis said.
Brock had heard about the program and its effectiveness and wanted to try it locally.
“That was during the height of meth, when meth was really starting to take over the countryside,” Lewis said. “Meth was tearing the community apart, filling up the jails, and nothing seemed to be working. We decided to try to help people find a new direction, to give them the skills they need and the support they need to make the change, if they are willing to do that.”
That’s how the drug court in Coffee County was born.
“When we started, I was working part time,” he said. “We now have two full-time case managers dedicated to our drug court program. We have a three-year recidivism rate that’s under 12 percent.”
In comparison, the average recidivism rate for people with addition issues who are released back to the community without any intervention is between 85 and 90 percent, according to Lewis.
“Our graduates have re-established their families, become working, productive moms and dads,” Lewis said. “They are a great part of our community now.”
More than 100 graduates have completed the recovery court, and 77 people are currently in the program.
There are more inmates in the county jail who wish to participate than the program can currently accommodate.
“We have folks on a waiting list for our recovery court,” Lewis said.
More funding would allow the program to expand, which would have long-term financial benefits to the county as well. Placing inmates in drug court is considerably more cost effective than jailing them.
The cost for a participant in the program is about $5,000 a year. In comparison, the cost for an inmate in the county jail is about $15,000 a year, and that cost is covered by Coffee County taxpayers.
“We serve people, willing to get help, who have drug and alcohol issues and are involved in the court system,” Lewis said.
Twelve inmates are currently on the waiting list, waiting to be assessed and for a spot to open up.
“Expanding to the next level would take another $70,000,” Lewis said. “Drug testing, case management and operation of the court system from our side gets to be expensive. We are always looking for new opportunities and grants to be able to expand what we are doing.”
The opioid effect
While meth was the major factor when the drug court started, officials say abuse of prescription medications is now at the forefront.
“The opioid epidemic has just been devastating,” Lewis said. “Folks in drug court have struggled with opioids.”
The impact of opioids is everywhere because pain medications are “so plentiful.”
“I know the medical field is working to cut back on prescribing,” Lewis said. “It seems as long as there are pain clinics around, people will be able to get opioids.”
Drugs lead to jail
The majority of inmates have a substance abuse problem, according to Lewis.
“Most of the stats show 75 to 80 percent of people in jail have a substance abuse and/or mental health issue,” he said. “There is a definite link between drug addiction and jail. It’s a growing problem. Locking people up obviously hasn’t helped.”
What would help?
Speeding up the assessment process would lead to better results, according to Lewis. And Coffee County can learn from other programs.
“In Rutherford County, for example, when people are arrested and come into the criminal justice system, an assessment is done on the front end to help determine if people are high or low risk, to identify mental health and drug abuse issues, and to put those individuals on a treatment track,” Lewis said. “You’re getting a quick start on addressing the issue.”
In Coffee County, the process is delayed, with the assessment completed when the inmates go to court and only if they are referred to a treatment program, said Lewis.
“There is a delay there,” he said. “To really intervene, looking at doing things a little bit differently would pay off. It’s coming up with a global plan of everybody saying, ‘let’s try something different that has worked in other places.’ It’s a change in process.”
In contrast with Suboxone, which is often abused by addicts, Vivitrol treatment has shown more promising results, said Lewis.
“Suboxone was designed to help people with the pain of withdrawal of opioids, but in the world we work in, it just becomes a substitute for opioid abuse,” Lewis said. “That’s why we are excited about Vivitrol – to this point we don’t know of anyone who has figured out a way to abuse that.”
Vivitrol is an injection given to clients with addictions following a detox period. It works by creating a barrier that blocks opioid molecules from attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, according to the brand.
“It blocks any of the euphoria effects that the client would get and it’s good for 30 days,” he said. “It also helps reduce the cravings for those particular drugs. We have folks that have used Vivitrol for eight or nine months with really good results.”
Lewis hopes the recovery program will expand in the future and help more locals escape the bars of addition, just like it has helped Turner, who plans to go to college soon.
Elena Cawley can be reached via email at email@example.com.