Summit County: New drug court helps substance abusers get fresh start |

Summit County: New drug court helps substance abusers get fresh start

BRECKENRIDGE – After years of struggling with substance abuse, Chad Blackman is on the road to recovery.

Almost exactly one year sober, the 26-year-old Breckenridge resident stood before a small contingent of people at the Summit County Justice Center Friday morning, giving advice to a youth headed down a road Blackman knows too well.

“You’ve got to want to change your mind frame,” Blackman tells the kid across the courtroom. “You’ve got to want to change your life.”

Blackman speaks from experience. He is the latest rising success story of Summit County’s new drug court, a comprehensive four-phase program that combines the legal process with therapy and treatment to help habitual drug and alcohol users get and stay clean.

The Summit County drug court, based on successful drug court models in Denver and other parts of the country, has been up and running since early November.

Karen Romeo, the drug court judge, said the program is particularly useful in Summit County, where more than 80 percent of crimes committed are drug or alcohol related.

“We needed to do something that works,” Romeo said. “These programs seem to work … It is such an intense program with high levels of accountability.”

The 18- to 24-month program walks participants through four phases. Phase one is simply reaching and sustaining sobriety. The second phase is the longest and combines intensive treatment with frequent drug and alcohol screenings and regular drug court dates when participants and the drug court team meet to track the participants’ progress.

Phase three and four are designed to help participants rejoin their community, by getting jobs, finding stable housing arrangements and completing a community service project.

Part of the program is individual support and reinforcement. The drug court team, from lawyers to therapists to Judge Romeo herself, cheer for and reward the participants’ successes and the court imposes sanctions when participants fail a drug test or start missing appointments.

“If you’re in the right mindset to change your life, they’re so helpful,” Blackman said. “It’s a good support system.”

Of Summit County’s four drug court participants, three have made it to Phase two and all four have been able to find jobs since starting the program.

Drug court participants are selected based on specific criteria. Individuals must be Summit County residents charged with a crime, but violent or sex offenders or people who sell drugs for profit are not eligible. Participants have to have had a history of substance abuse at the root of their run-ins with the law. And, after meeting all the criteria, potential drug court participants also undergo an extensive mental health and substance abuse evaluation to determine whether the program is a good match for them.

The Summit County drug court team is currently considering two new applicants for the program and has room to have as many as 15 people participating.

Romeo said she’s aware of the criticism of programs like the drug court.

“People have this myth that it’s really “touchy-feely” court,” she said. “It’s a lot of time and energy, but it’s time and energy well spent because they’re effective programs.”

People who complete drug court programs are less likely to commit another crime than people who do time in jail.

For Blackman, the program was a second chance. With six months left on a prison sentence related to various charges, he applied for the two-year drug court program hoping to make a permanent change in his life. He is now in phase two of the program, is 100 percent compliant with all drug court requirements and has been sober for about a year. At the conclusion of the drug court hearing Friday, he approached the bench to proudly show Judge Romeo photographs of his 1-year-old daughter.

“I call them my kids already,” Romeo said of the four drug court participants. “It’s just amazing that we weren’t able to achieve those changes through probation or incarceration. It’s exciting to see people starting to get it and do better.”

A few of the drug court participants have begun thinking about their futures and setting goals for themselves.

Blackman is going to get his degree in psychology and become a substance abuse councilor, he says in no uncertain terms.

“If you change one person, you change the world,” Romeo said. “Think about the people he’ll affect in a positive way.”

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