Addiction court offers second chance

By Terray Sylvester
The Flint Journal

FLINT (AP) - On Oct. 23, in a district courtroom in downtown Flint, Judge Mark Latchana called for Scott Daup to reflect on his long fight for sobriety.

"We all make mistakes and I've made many," Daup began, stepping up to a microphone usually reserved for attorneys arguing cases. "I've spent most of my life out in the madness, using."

Daup, 37, had struggled with addiction for nearly 20 years, ever since he began smoking marijuana and drinking as a teenager growing up in Swartz Creek. Those choices, he told The Flint Journal, led him to painkillers and then more dangerous street drugs, including heroin.

But on that Monday afternoon in late October, he was celebrating a milestone: three months of sobriety, paired with new insights - some of them gained in that very courtroom - that he thought offered him his best chance yet at lasting sobriety.

"Today, I'm not allowing my past to dictate my future or present," he said. "This is a big accomplishment for me."

Daup was speaking to a room filled with people who could relate.

The Genesee County Adult Felony Drug Court was in session, and the public gallery was filled with people from all walks of life who have struggled with substance abuse for months, years or their entire adult lives.

The drug court is an intensive form of probation, in which non-violent felony drug offenders such as Daup - who was convicted of two possession charges, one each for heroin and cocaine - are diverted away from incarceration and into a rigorous program of drug tests and meetings with counselors, caseworkers and probation officers.

The program usually lasts one to two years. Those who graduate may see their drug charges dismissed and their sentences reduced.

Latchana argues that the drug court is the most effective way for the criminal justice system to handle offenders suffering from addiction.

"There aren't any other better options out there," said Latchana, who has managed the court for five years. "If you put them in jail or prison, you're just delaying the problem, because they're going to come back out an addict."

In early November, a White House commission agreed, calling for the creation of a national network of drug courts to combat the country's opioid crisis.

As Michigan shoulders its own share of the crisis, the stakes couldn't be higher.

Opioid overdose deaths in Michigan have more than doubled since 2012, according to state and federal data.

Genesee County's opioid prescription rate was the third highest in the state in 2015, a 46 percent jump from 2009, according to state data.

Latchana has seen it firsthand.

"Heroin and meth are way up," he said. "Every single person in drug court knows people that have died. I've gone to five funerals in five years."

In the program, punishment isn't the main point. Instead, drug court workers focus on treatment.

Participants aren't kicked out when they miss meetings, as long as they don't stay away for too long. Nor are they terminated when they fail one of their regular drug tests, as long as they demonstrate they're still committed to getting clean.

"We monitor people very closely. If somebody is struggling, but trending up and trying, then we keep working with them," Latchana said. "If it was easy to get off drugs they would all do it."

According to state statistics, it works.

In Michigan, offenders who graduate from an adult drug court are about one third as likely to commit another crime within two years as offenders who don't participate in such programs, according to a 2016 report from the State Court Administrative Office.

Recidivism rates among graduates remain significantly lower four years out as well.

The courts also help participants become contributing members of society. Sixty-three percent of graduates are working when they graduate, but just 4 percent enter the courts with jobs, according to the same report.

Latchana argues that drug courts are also relatively cheap. It's far more expensive to jail addicts, he said, than to put them through the program, which is funded by state grants and fees paid by the participants themselves.

At any given time, about 100 people are enrolled in the Genesee County Adult Felony Drug Court. In the last five years, about 115 have graduated.

"A lot of them graduate from our program with jobs, houses, relationships, families," Latchana said. "They don't all get there, but a lot of them do."

If all goes as planned, Daup will too.

Daup entered the drug court in January after police caught him with heroin and crack cocaine.

His journey since then had been hard. He spent 10 months in the court - 10 months punctuated by half a dozen relapses, two heroin overdoses, a stretch of homelessness, and a warrant issued when he absconded from his probation - before he managed to string together 90 days of sobriety.

But as Thanksgiving approached, he had a stable home at a residential treatment facility in Flint, and he was working a full-time manufacturing job - his first real job in years. If he graduates, his drug charges will be dismissed.

Much of his spare time was taken by the requirements of the drug court, but in his few remaining waking hours he was volunteering at the church he attended as a child, and he helped found an addiction recovery group.

At the same time, Daup has begun to re-connect with his family, seeing more of his mother and his three young sons.

And whenever he suffers cravings, he finds himself surrounded by a support network of counselors upon whom he could call for help.

He gave much of the credit to the drug court.

"I'm grateful because I really wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for that," Daup said.

Published: Thu, Dec 07, 2017

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