The overarching theme of stigma was in the spotlight throughout conferences given to court personnel all over the state. Executive Director of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, Donald McDonald, stated that, “It’s important to smash the stigma in all settings, but especially this one.” He also claimed that, “Stigma keeps us from doing our best work for the people we serve.”
Out of all 100 counties in North Carolina, only 22 counties house a total of 49 recovery courts. The courts serve as a partner to those in the criminal justice system who have a history of substance abuse. Forms of treatment are available in a family court, adult and youth drug treatment courts, mental health courts, veteran and tribal treatment courts, as well as DWI courts.
During a conference, McDonald presented a training course that would enable people who work in the special courts to have the ability to address addiction recovery clients by eliminating unconscious stigma. All the while, they would be changing the way they talk about unwarranted substance use and leading their clients in the right direction.
After his presentation, McDonald pinpointed that this avoided stigma blocks people from seeking help which unfortunately limits the effectiveness of resources to them. By implementing solutions form his training course, that stigma can start to be defeated.
McDonald, who is a Navy veteran and retired teacher, holds this topic closest to his heart as he has experienced his own journey battling with mental health and substance use disorders. As of today, he has been in recovery for 14 years.
Approximately 320 people attended the conference centered around treatment, education, accountability, manageability and sustainability. One of the conferences was held in Greensboro and was sponsored by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts and the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI).
Janeanne Gonzales, the program administrator for the drug treatment courts in Mecklenburg County, said the skills shared and the networking connections made were priceless. She stated that it gives all the courts a basis to rebuild themselves on the same foundation so that they can grow and support each other.
According to another presenter at the conference when addressing drug treatment, they believe the court’s policy is doing more harm than good. First off, participants are only deemed eligible when they can stay sober by themselves for a few days. However, if they can stay sober after 14 days, they are no longer in “high-risk” need of the resources that the recovery courts can offer. Court personnel are pressured to reevaluate their admission requirements so that a level playing field is available to all that need access to sincere help.
The price to continue running the recovery court system also contributes to the stigma that the courts help who they want. None of the recovery programs have been funded by the state in the last seven years. The cost of operations are covered by grants from the federal government or funding from the local cities or counties they reside in.
The system required partnerships with professionals who specialize in everything from child welfare to mental health. With that help available to the participants, a high graduation rate from the recovery program in Mecklenburg County is the reward. After graduation, the former participants are still involved to keep them on the right track to a better substance-free life.
“It’s been a huge difference in our community,” said Valerie Comrie, a family court program coordinator in Robeson County. “The parents say they hope they thought was gone is actually restored because of our program…Recovery courts should be a staple throughout the state of North Carolina and every person in need should have these opportunities, and given the epidemic, we have lots of folks in need.”