Drug Court graduate Jaime Ibarra Jr. shakes  hands with Judge Thomas R. Adams (Nov. 9, 2015)

Paul Wellman

Drug Court graduate Jaime Ibarra Jr. shakes hands with Judge Thomas R. Adams (Nov. 9, 2015)

Drug Court Graduates Celebrate Year of Sobriety

Many Thank the Nonjudgmental Approach of Project Recovery Program

This Monday, 27 recovering drug addicts and alcoholics celebrated 12 months of court-supervised sobriety with hearty handshakes from judges Thomas Adams and Jean Dandona, who presided over their graduation from one of eight “drug court” diversion programs. Many of the graduates — who entered their respective programs rather than face criminal prosecution — sang the praises of Marcel Meier, manager for Project Recovery.

One graduate — a self-described “46-year-old Montecito Mommy” — said she achieved a year’s worth of sobriety thanks to Project Recovery’s nonjudgmental and accepting approach. She’d tried Betty Ford for 28 days back in 2006 after a wine-fueled car crash, but to no avail. A taste for Vicodin led to addiction, and two years ago she was back in court on felony charges for failing to return a rental car. Last year, she was charged with felony embezzlement after talking a couple into writing her checks for $5,300 as a deposit on an apartment she did not own. When prosecuting attorney Brian Cota allowed her to sign up for a diversion program, the Substance Abuse Treatment Court, she jumped at the chance. If she could complete 12 months of the program without a hitch, her criminal charges would be expunged. “No conviction,” she exclaimed.

Program leader Meier said about 120 people graduate from the eight programs a year and about 30 drop out or are kicked out. “We give them a lot of chances,” he said. North County addicts favor methamphetamines while their South County counterparts — who tend to be older and whiter, start drug abuse sooner, and are arrested later on — favor opiates such as heroin and Vicodin. Seventy-five percent of drug-court enrollees on the South Coast graduate while only 33 percent of their North County peers do. A follow-up study on the efficacy of drug courts concluded that those who graduated from them tended to have lower re-offense rates.

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