Drug Court Graduation Illustrates Many Ties to Addiction
By Csaba Sukosd | July 11, 2019
The path to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is a lifelong journey. But along the way there are numerous milestones to celebrate.
Recently, a drug court in Union County Common Pleas Court held one such event that's become so common for the growing program that it organizes four graduation ceremonies annually.
"The goal from the beginning was to effect change in people's lives," said Judge Don Fraser, who presides over the specialized docket known as "First Steps Towards Recovery."
Since the fall of 2010, 140 people have completed the 11-month program, including the seven newest graduates. The most-recent honorees were joined by family, friends, and supporters at the Union County Veterans Auditorium as part of an afternoon where the participants shared their stories, struggles, and words of encouragement about battling addiction.
"If you accept the love and support that people give you, and use it to your advantage, [recovery is] 100 percent possible," said graduate Alyssa Carver.
As is customary with treatment, the court and support staff stress honesty and transparency no matter how uncomfortable it might be. That willingness to open up was evident as the participants described the darker periods of their addiction.
"I can remember taking my son with me to get drugs, and him being hungry, and me telling him he has to wait because I can't miss the dealer," said Shannon Alexander, another graduate who stated her 10 months of sobriety are the longest she's had in a decade.
Despite the significant population growth of its county seat Marysville - up 47 percent - and the county itself - up 37 percent - over the past 20 years, there's still a small-town feel where much of the community knows one another. It's one reason why the court and treatment providers are so motivated in a communal effort.
"We know what's at stake. We feel it deeply," said Dr. Joseph Float, Union County Common Pleas Court's treatment and probation services director. "We feel the success that we had today, but we also know how serious the challenge that we've undertaken with the drug court is."
For Judge Fraser, his connection to the cause started after he was elected to the bench in 2008. As he was in the process of implementing the drug court a year later, he received an urgent phone call about his daughter, who had just started college in Arizona.
"I walked into the hospital and found out that she was withdrawing from heroin," Judge Fraser said. "I've dealt with the effects of addiction ever since."
As his specialized docket was being conceptualized, Judge Fraser's role was reversed. He was a civilian supporting a child going through the criminal system, who ultimately ended up in a drug court.
"She's been one of the fortunate ones who made changes in her life and turned her life around," Judge Fraser said.
His gratitude for the rehabilitative process in court recovery programs is something his latest graduates can attest to as well. One of them, Zach Peterson, found his way after multiple unsuccessful attempts at staying sober, prospering from the staff's persistence and patience.
"The things that are similar with all these people is that they believed in me when I didn't believe in myself," he said.