Drug court sorely needed

Published 5:37 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

The Fifth Circuit Court recently celebrated the relaunch of its drug treatment court, a program designed to help divert people with drug addictions to treatment programs rather than simply punishing them through the criminal justice system.

The need is great. Chief Judge Carl Eason Jr., the Fifth Circuit judge with the greatest number of years of experience on the bench locally, estimated at least 70% of all crimes that come through the court are drug-related in some way. It may not be a drug offense, he noted — it might be larceny, assault or the like — but there is an underlying drug use problem more often than not. Even many civil cases in the court are drug-related, he added.

Since 2011, opiate deaths in Virginia have increased 500%, indicating a great need for programs to help these people find their way into treatment rather than circulating them through the substance-abuse-to-prison cycle.

The choice for the Fifth Circuit’s first drug court coordinator appears to be an excellent one. Terry Tate has a personal connection, as both of his parents have recovered from drug addiction. He credits the drug court they went through in Alabama as the reason they are still alive, living sober and well. Having someone who has seen the positive effects a drug treatment court can have coordinating the effort is sure to make a difference.

Although this program is worth every penny that will be spent on it, we’re pleased to see that those organizing it pursued grant money so that all those pennies won’t come from local funds. Most notably, it received a grant of $330,500 from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

We have a hearty round of applause for those who have made the drug treatment court come to fruition, especially local public defender Elisabeth Culpepper, who proposed the idea more than two years ago.

We look forward to seeing this new program make a difference in our community.