Addicts can turn to the 61st District Drug Court to help them achieve sobriety

It's a choice: serve time or go through drug court.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - It's a rigorous 12 to 24 month program, but the best case scenario involves an addict achieving sobriety with a strong support system. 

Kent County 61st District Court was the second judicial system in Michigan, after Kalamazoo, to establish a drug court. Now, there's roughly 70 to 80 sobriety courts throughout the state. 

Joe Berlin and Judge Kimberly Schaefer are the key players in the program that's facilitated sobriety for more than 60 percent of its participants. 

The program consists of four different phases starting with the most intense phase of treatment first. 

Addicts who are interested in taking part receive an assessment from Network 180 and attend a drug court session to get a better feel for the proceedings. 

The prosecutor can choose to set up a plea deal in which case the offender's charges are dropped if they successfully complete the program. 

Participants have to test clean during their randomized drops, attend an allotted amount of support group meetings and meet with Berlin weekly in order to progress from one phase to the next. 

Berlin said there are often relapses, especially in the final two phases when people become lackadaisical. Dirty drops and relapses can result in a two-day jail stint, which can be especially difficult for those receiving medication assisted treatment. 

Berlin said a new pilot program with the Kent County Jail inmates may soon allow inmates to receive that medication throughout their time behind bars. 

 Nobody wants to be an addict. There are people in this program with high risk and high needs. They are vulnerable to committing more crimes because they lack resources. Those are the types of individuals this program targets. - Joe Berlin 

Drug court has proven to be more successful than standard probation. The short term cost of the program is high due to treatment, doctors and other provided resources, but Berlin said the 'return on investment' is much greater. 

Unfortunately, there are still losses. 

"The opiate epidemic has inundated much of Grand Rapids," said Berlin, who's lost four people to drug overdose since last May. 

"It's very frustrating because I know it's preventable," Berlin said. 

He said the most crucial part of being successful is the will to get better. 

"It's easier to be an addict, than to stop using." 

Participants have to want to make a change and the court will be there to back them and provide the resources they need to make that a reality. 

This program is only open to non-violent offenders and typically offenders with no more than three felonies on their record. 

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