Drug court treatment options in jeopardy

Heroin is no longer a problem reserved for cities like Chicago.

Rural McHenry County is home to sprawling hills and hundreds of farms, and 43 people died from overdoses there last year. Twenty of those deaths were caused by heroin.

Already this year, the coroner is reporting 13 fatal overdoses. County officials say they can no longer arrest their way out of the drug problem.

That is why drug courts are becoming a popular alternative to sending addicts to jail. But the lack of a state budget has some wondering how the drug court will survive.

For most participants for the past year, two years and three years, they visit the courthouse in Woodstock to check in with the drug court, take a drug test and see the judge.

One graduate says because of this program, his life has completely changed.

"I would definitely be in prison. I wouldn't have my family,” said Jason Beaty.

After 16 years of being behind bars and drug addiction, Beaty is a drug court graduate.

"We see them at their lowest point in their life and now we get to see them in the best they've been,” said judge Charles Weech.

Ten drug court graduates is the largest class in the specialty court's history. This is an alternative sentence for non-violent felony offenders, which are usually things like retail theft to supply a drug habit. The program mixes accountability with treatment.

"It addresses the whole person rather than just the criminal piece or just their addiction,” said Jason Sterwerf, director of special projects.

Eighty-six percent of their graduates are never rearrested, but recently their successful program has hit a roadblock.

"We are losing facilities, it's narrowing what options we have for people, so the treatment piece is difficult,” Weech said.

Four of their treatment facilities have scaled back their programs due to lack of state funding. Judge Charles Weech says they've since increased their own clinical staff to do treatment in house.

Beaty says the program is not easy.

"I would get caught up in my own BS, and I would try to manipulate the program,” Beaty said.

He’s a recovering heroin addict. Drug court has helped him curb his addiction, which is something the judge hopes will work for others.

“That's something this community has a hard time embracing, that we have a heroin epidemic, we do, so we have to we have to adapt,” Weech said.

"I can't help to think I wish I could've got this a lot sooner. I wish drug court was there my first time going to prison,” Beaty said.

Drug courts also save the community money. Court officials say they spend about $8k per offender in drug court, compared to $25 -38 thousand a year behind bars.