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Pasco drug treatment court program offers fresh starts

Nicole Johnson, 21, center, plays with her daughter, Kylee Smith, 11 months, while sitting next to her sister Chelsea Davis, 4, and mother, Susan Davis, after receiving her certificate at the Treatment Court Graduation Ceremony held Tuesday at the Pasco County Courthouse. A desire to be a good mother helped her stopped taking methamphetamines.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Nicole Johnson, 21, center, plays with her daughter, Kylee Smith, 11 months, while sitting next to her sister Chelsea Davis, 4, and mother, Susan Davis, after receiving her certificate at the Treatment Court Graduation Ceremony held Tuesday at the Pasco County Courthouse. A desire to be a good mother helped her stopped taking methamphetamines.

DADE CITY

Heather Bower's 1-year-old daughter rolled off a bed and accidentally suffocated. Bower, a young mother, cried for most of a year, and when the grief still wouldn't abate, she tried to squelch it with methamphetamine.

Her habit, which began in 2005, blossomed into a $1,500-a-week addiction, which Bower funded by ordering prescription pads off the Internet, writing them for the painkiller Oxycodone and selling the pills to other junkies.

"I was snorting it, eating it, shooting it and smoking it every day," Bower, 26, said of the methamphetamine. "I was trying to kill myself."

But Tuesday marked the culmination of Bower's efforts toward a new life. She's one of more than 50 people graduating this week from Pasco County's drug treatment court, which steers low-level drug offenders into treatment rather than jail.

The program requires participants to pass frequent drug tests and attend individual therapy and support group meetings. Once they successfully complete the program, the drug charges are wiped from their record.

A second graduation is set for Friday in New Port Richey.

Tuesday's ceremony was brief, but uplifting. A preacher opened with prayer about overcoming. A state representative told the graduates that even though he doesn't know them, he's proud of them. The judge who runs the program thanked them — for believing in themselves, for forgiving themselves and for supporting others around them.

"I hope that we have been as much a blessing to you as you have been to us," Circuit Judge Linda Babb told the small crowd inside Courtroom D at the Pasco County Courthouse.

Bower, wearing a corsage and speaking in a happy, confident voice, told the audience she was "clean and sober nine months and feeling great."

Then she thanked everyone she could think of: her counselors, her attorney, Babb and even the officer who arrested her "for waking me up."

She plans to move to New York soon, where her other three children live, enroll in community college and become a drug counselor.

Nicole Johnson, another graduate, sat toward the back and didn't address the crowd. The quiet, polite 21-year-old was too busy tending to her daughter Kylee, born drug-free 11 months ago.

Johnson, who lives in Lacoochee, said she tried meth because her friends were using it, and soon enough she was hooked.

"It got to the point where I didn't even get high," she said. "But I still had to have it, I thought."

She was enrolled in drug court for the second time — her first attempt was a failure — when she became pregnant. As much as anything, she said, the desire to be a good mother got her past her meth addiction.

Now she works at Wendy's while her mom watches Kylee. She thinks about things like camping and going to the zoo — simple joys she could never do when she was high.

"Now I can," she said, "because I'm drug-free."

135 Graduates of the Pasco drug court program since its inception 2 1/2 years ago

85 Percent of participants who successfully complete the program

77 Percent of participants who got their GED, if they didn't already have a high school diploma

11 Babies born drug-free to mothers in treatment

6 Percent of drug court participants who have been rearrested

$565 to $1,060 Cost of treatment per drug court participant

$11,340 Cost of 180-day stay at the county jail, where participants would go if they had not been diverted into drug court

Source: Sixth Judicial Circuit

Pasco drug treatment court program offers fresh starts 05/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:12pm]
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