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      Drug Court breaks the chain of addiction

      Judge Owens presides over Family Drug Court

      Drug Courts save tax money and resources by keeping individuals with substance abuse or mental health issues out of jail, and getting them actively engaged in the community. Graduates of Drug Court emerge as productive, tax-paying members of society.

      "Adult Drug Court is a program that's for prison diversion, basically we like to try and take people who are otherwise going to go to prison and give them an opportunity, if they have drug problems, to come into our program," said Judge Kirk Daily, Iowa District 8 judge and supervisor of the Adult Drug Court program. "It's a 15-18 month program, if they can be successful in our program with intense supervision, then they have a possibility when they get done with that to go forward with the rest of their life and be drug free."

      Drug Court keeps participants accountable for their actions, but provides a more compassionate atmosphere than regular court. The system has proved to be successful.

      "We've had a lot of people complete this program successfully, roughly about 65% of the people who start the program complete it by graduating, and it celebrates their success," said Judge Bill Owens, Iowa District 8 judge and supervisor of Family Drug Court.

      There are over 2,600 Drug Courts in the United States and since 1989, the courts have served over one million seriously addicted people. Ottumwa Mayor Frank Flanders signed a proclamation in celebration of National Drug Court Month and a special event will be held in Central Park on May 21 from 4-7 p.m. to honor the program, its graduates and celebrate sobriety.

      "We've had people who have never had a job, they've never had a place of their own to go, have a job, have an apartment, have a house, get married, have a car, have a 401K," said Judge Daily. "It changes their life dramatically."

      Some of the program's graduates stay involved by sponsoring current participants and keeping active in the court.

      "I've been sober five years and that's the longest I've ever been sober and I have all my kids, I adopted my husband's son and I'm going to school to be a social worker," said Ashley McNeely, a Drug Court graduate. "It gave me a lot of things I never thought I could do."

      "Basically, it changed my life," said graduate Tony McNeely. "It held me accountable for a lot of things like being a productive member of society, maintaining employment, staying out of trouble, out of jail. I was facing probably 25 years in prison and I chose drug court and I got my family. It's hard work, I mean, you really have to want to stay sober and because they really hold you accountable for a lot of things. It's life-changing."

      The Drug Court Month celebration is free and open to the public and will showcase stories of sobriety, as well as include a balloon ceremony. Current and past participants of Family and Adult Drug Court will write how long they have been sober on a balloon, and release it.

      For more information about Drug Courts, visit the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.