Dealing with a son who is an addict has taught us more than we ever wanted to know about addiction and the criminal justice system. One of the best things we've learned is about drug courts. Drug courts offer hope for addicts and families. If you're in the middle of this battle or know someone who is, I want you to know about drug courts.
Drug courts may not be in your area yet. If not, I would encourage you to learn about them and, if you believe in them, become an advocate. Our son's participation in our local drug court is a large part of his recovery. It's his longest period of sustained recovery in almost twelve years.
The drug problem
The drug problem is not getting better nor is it going away.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 72,000 people died of an overdose in 2017. The most substantial increase in overdoses came from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, with an estimated 30,000 deaths. These synthetic opioids are a game changer. Addicts are in more danger of overdose than ever because of these synthetics.
According to the study, the 2017 death rate is a two-fold increase over a decade. It's a severe problem that requires serious solutions. That's a topic for another day and another article.
Our son, Jason, got out of the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center (jail) in December 2018. What follows is an update on how he's doing. I hope this encourages any parent dealing with an addicted son, daughter or other family members.
I'm reprinting parts a previous post to provide additional background pertinent to today's update.
I've spoken before about the disease of addiction and recommend this video series to anyone interested in learning more about it. The hard truth is that we can't jail our way out of addiction. It doesn't and hasn't worked.
Drug Courts divert addicts from the criminal court system whose primary form of punishment is jail and prison. The drug court structure provides an alternative program of long-term treatment for the addict. These alternatives to jail are slowly gaining acceptance and getting into the state and county justice systems. Fairfax County, VA, our county, recently instituted drug courts.
To qualify for drug courts, applicants must meet several criteria. You must have convictions related to drugs. You must have served time and violated probation. These two are the basic qualifications. There are many more. After applying, candidates go through an extensive interview and approval process to be sure, if accepted, they have the best chance for success.
During his time in jail, Jason met his new probation officer. She spent the better part of a Friday afternoon interviewing him. At the end of their time together, she told him he'd be a perfect candidate for the drug court program. It's a minimum fourteen-month program. Participants live on their own, are subject to strict work requirements, go to counseling, attend regular twelve-step meetings, and get regularly tested for drug use.
The probation officer saw then what we began to see in our son – a man ready to change his life free from drugs. The probation officer met with the prosecutor, who agreed with the recommendation. The drug court judge signed off as well. Because he had a parole violation and new charges, two criminal court judges had to approve him for the program. It didn't go as smoothly as expected, but both judges eventually approved the plan.
Numerous people applied for the drug court program. Jason and two other guys were the first accepted. He started his plan after his release from jail.
As you would expect, jail is not a fun place to be. It's a place with its own culture and rules. Inmate rules are a second set of rules outside of the jail's own policies. After getting approved for the drug court program, another inmate tried to get Jason in trouble by blaming him for things this inmate did. Jason tried reasoning with the inmate causing the trouble. This guy was close with a couple of the guards, one of which spent a fair amount of time making life difficult for Jason.
Why do I tell this story? Because in the past, he would likely have confronted the inmate and the prison personnel. That probably would have jeopardized his drug court program and possibly added more jail time. This time, he kept his cool. That was another sign to us that he was changing; that he was serious about his recovery. He never said a word about that to us until long after it was over. In the past, we would have heard all about it in a way that placed blame on others. This time, Jason focused on what he had to do to get into the treatment program and start a new life.
Through it all, he's never once blamed anyone. He's never made excuses. That was a welcome change in behavior.
Jason got out of jail on December 16, 2018. We spent our first Christmas together in over eight years. He had a job lined up when released working at a local restaurant where his girlfriend is a waitress.
Jason is a better version of himself before he became addicted to heroin. One questions we often get is, “how do you know he isn't still lying and manipulating?”It's simple. His actions have changed. He hasn't asked for anything. He takes full responsibility for his past behavior. We are talking freely and openly about his journey through drug use.
He had an interview scheduled when he got out of jail with an Oxford House. Oxford Houses are self-managed sober-living houses for recovering addicts. He was in and out of them several times during his years of addiction. Those that are managed correctly have strict rules. Staying sober is at the top of the list. He got thrown out of several over the years due to his drug use. The house where he interviewed wanted him to move in two nights after he got out. We could tell he was nervous about moving so soon.
We were a close and strong family before his descent into addiction. He told us one of the factors leading to him changing was the desire to have his family back. Neither he nor we thought that would ever happen. We wanted to spend some time with him before he moved. We offered to have him stay with us to have that time together. He didn't ask. We offered. In the past, there would have been an all-out effort to guilt us into letting him stay. This time, he would have moved that night if we said he couldn't stay.
He was with us about a month. He's now moved into another Oxford House that is a much better fit for him. The house is close to his job, the courts, his probation officer, and the Community Service Board (CSB) which helps evaluate and place participants into an appropriate treatment regimen.
Drug court process
The drug court treatment program is a rigorous one. The Circuit Court of our county set aside a judge from the criminal court to oversee the drug court program. Jason was the first to get accepted. As of this writing, there are six participants. More on that shortly.
In phase one of the program, participants go to court every Thursday at 9:00 am. In court are the prosecutor, judge, probation officer, and people from the CSB. His probation officer came to our house to meet with us. I had this vision of what I thought a probation officer would be. She was the polar opposite of what I expected. She's a sweet, caring person dedicated to her clients' sobriety. It was a refreshing surprise to have my stereotype shattered.
She told us how the program worked. Several times, she reminded us that relapse is part of the recovery process. That's a huge difference from the criminal system. There, a relapse often means the addict serves out any time suspended during sentencing. At the very least, they serve additional time.
Cathy and I attended the first drug court appearance with Jason. The probation officer encouraged us to be there. The judge asks three things of her participants. First, show up every week. Second, work the program and do what we tell you to do. Third, don't lie to me. Lying is an integral part of a using addict's behavior. It's how they cover up and hide their addiction. She was clear she wants no part of it. If you relapse, tell me. Don't lie.
Drug court participants must take random drug tests twice a week during phase one. They have until the end of the day to go to the probation office for a urine test. Drug tests are part of the Thursday court visits. Participants must meet with the CSB to get an evaluation for the type of ongoing treatment they will receive. Initially, they wanted Jason to go to a three night a week relapse prevention program for four months. They are required to attend AA or other twelve-step recovery programs regularly. He goes to meetings almost every day.
In the beginning, he had to have a written record of his attendance to present to the court. The judge decided Jason didn't need to bring the documentation going forward. Because he's dong so well, it looks like the three night a week program will not be required.
There are now six participants in the drug court program. Sadly, only two have had clean urine since entering, Jason and one other guy. One man is likely going back to prison for four years. He's unable to do what the judge is asking him to do. He's now had two successive dirty urine tests and lied to the judge. If he were in the criminal court system, he would already be back in jail and on his way for a longer prison sentence. The judge here is giving him every opportunity to help himself. We're hoping and praying he does.
Because of his long battle with addiction, many of the jail personnel knew Jason. Many of the probation officers, guards, and counselors know him well. All said they could see a significant change in him. One of the jail counselors referred him to Catholic Charities. She told him she only introduces them to people who she believes are serious about recovery. After his initial call with Catholic Charities, they offered to pay for his first two weeks and the deposit for his Oxford House rent. He got a metro (public transportation) card, grocery gift cards, and various other things to help him get started.
They introduced him to a mentor to help him along the way. That mentor became his sponsor. Over the years, sponsors have come and gone. These two hit it off. It's been a great relationship. They talk at least daily, attend meetings together, and are working through the twelve-step program together.
The change and turnaround are nothing short of remarkable. We and he know he has a very long way to go. He's had significant challenges since getting out. His former drug contacts have reached out to him. They saw him on Facebook. He's purposely avoided situations that put him at risk. He's one of only two people who has not had dirty urine since entering the program. He knows he's one slip away from relapse and is doing everything he possibly can to avoid it.
We are as hopeful as we've ever been that he now has a good chance of staying in recovery.
Every Monday evening, Cathy and I facilitate a PAL Group meeting. PAL is a group that provided education and support for parents and family members of addicted loved ones. On March 18, he shared his story with our parents' support group. Our group has from ten to twelve or thirteen regular attendees. On Monday, Jason shared his story, we had over thirty people attend. His probation officer and two others from her office attended along with his girlfriend. It was an amazing night.
He also speaks at twelve step meetings and will be speaking to the senior high students at Reston Bible Church.
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!
Jason has now moved completed phase one and moved into phase two. That means twice a month visits to the drug court and less frequent urine tests.
If you're a parent of an addict, protect yourself along the way. Set good boundaries. The addict gets better when they're ready. Their “bottom” (I hate that term) is lower than you or I could ever imagine. We found out about the drug use in 2000, the addiction in 2007. It took that long for him to decide he wanted to get better.
Keep praying for your son or daughter. Keep loving them. Even when you think there is no hope (which happens a lot), know there is always hope. Let the story of our son be an example you remember when you're in the depths of despair.
We know he has a long way to go. He hasn't been able to handle life outside of drugs for a very long time. This time, however, he has the right program at the right time for him. The most important thing is, he seems ready for it.
If you know someone dealing with addiction and think this post will help them, please pass it along. If that person is you, please –
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!
May God hold you up in this nightmare of a journey.
The PAL Group – PAL (parents of addicted loved ones) provides hope, education, and support for parents of addicted loved ones. We started a PAL group in September 2018. It's been a help and a blessing to us and many other parents.
Money Magazin Article – The December issue of Money magazine featured three parent's stories of dealing with an addicted loved one. Cathy and I were one of those sets of parents.
Beautiful Boy – A movie based on the true story of David Sheff and his son Nick, who was addicted to methamphetamine. Based on David's book, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, it's an authentic and compelling story of what it's like for families dealing with addiction.
Now it's your turn. Share your stories of addiction. It seems everyone has one or know someone who does. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
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