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Graduates say drug court is a life-saving program



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PROVO -- Drug addiction is a struggle for many Utahns, and Friday, 10 people were recognized as new graduates from the Utah County Drug Court.

The gift for earning graduation from drug court is that all charges against the graduates are dropped and they are no longer on probation. During the graduation, we heard story after story of painful struggles with drug abuse, ending with family members proud of their loved ones for becoming clean.

It's not very often there is applause and a standing ovation in a courtroom, but Friday was graduation day at drug court.

"This is the first program I have completed successfully. When you want to do it, you are going to do it," a graduate named Justin told us.

Justin has struggled with drugs for more than 10 years. Friday marked his 353 day sober, earning this praise from his nephew. "I look up to you a lot and am very proud of you, and we love you," Colton told his uncle.

Suspects arrested on drug charges can work to be accepted into the drug court program. It requires them to be clean for six months, and candidates face random drug tests several times week. They must complete drug treatment and have a job.

"Give it a chance to trust them. They know what they are doing. They are there to help you. Don't lie to them, just put everything into it," Justin said.

Todd also graduated Friday. He's been clean for 333 days, after a 12-year struggle that began with an addiction to painkillers after a motorcycle accident in 1997. He later began abusing street drugs.

"It saves lives. Drug court is one of the most amazing programs out there. People can go to rehab for 30 or 90 days, and you kind of start getting your lives on track. But with drug court being a one-year program, if you really put yourself into it, you can really build an amazing life," Todd said.

For judges, who regularly see the same individuals in court wearing handcuffs and shackles, drug court graduation is an exciting moment.

"We know that 80 to 90 percent of the people who graduate from this program don't come back, and that's a wonderful thing," said 4th District Court Judge James R. Taylor.

Like many state programs, drug court has lost some of its funding -- cutting the available spots from 70 down to 40. But with 10 graduates finishing the program Friday, 10 others will now get a chance to participate.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod

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