Adult Drug Court saved Kim Oliver’s life.

Oliver, who is a Mason County resident, was a guest speaker last week at the opening ceremony held for Jackson County’s Adult Drug Court program. Drug court is a way for qualifying offenders to get treatment and rehabilitation to ultimately avoid harsher penalties.

Oliver graduated from the Mason County Drug Court program and has been clean for nearly two years. She became addicted to opioids after being overprescribed by a doctor after a Caesarian section, she said.

“It was a hard road for a long time,” Oliver said.

Oliver was charged with two felonies.

“I went to jail for 30 days. Worst 30 days of my life,” she said.

Luckily, Oliver was able to get into the drug court program under the supervision of Judge Craig Tatterson in Mason County. Prosecuting attorneys decide who can participate. Participants cannot be registered sex offenders or have prior convictions for violent felonies.

Like everyone who participates, Oliver signed a written agreement that outlined what would happen if completed the program, as well as what would happen if she failed. She had to undergo treatment, submit to random and observed drug testing, and meet weekly with the judge to review her progress.

Like many in the program, Oliver had ups and downs. Participants who don’t meet the stringent requirements of the program can be sanctioned or kicked out of the program altogether.

“He (Tatterson) was super hard on me because he saw the potential that I had. My first sanction was a GPS tracker. The second time, he put me in jail for 14 days. Most people got a weekend. Not me. He told me it was my last chance. He said I needed to think about what I wanted while I was in there. And I did,” Oliver said.

Tatterson also told Oliver she had to stay away from the people who had a negative influence in her life – people like her husband, who was still a drug addict.

“It was the best thing he could have done for me. I was ready to stay clean. I was ready to do it for my kids. I got my old job back. They hired me back. They didn’t have to, but they did because they saw the difference I was making in myself through drug court,” Oliver said.

Ella Dillon is the Adult Drug Court probation officer for Jackson County. She said participants in the program are less likely to re-offend.

“Drug Court Programs are community based programs that are great at reducing recidivism and helping treat substance abuse within the offenders in our communities. Across the nation, drug courts have been extremely successful. It is my hope and belief that the Jackson County Drug Court will follow suit,” she said.

Jackson County’s drug court will be overseen by Judge Lora Dyer. Dyer said there is a connection between the drug problem and child neglect and abuse cases across the state. She believes drug court will help alleviate the problem.

“In this county alone, we have 308 children involved in abuse and neglect cases. We all know that the state is in the midst of an epidemic of drugs. The effect is tremendous on the judiciary and our system of justice – law enforcement and all members of the justice community. That’s why this program is so vitally important,” Dyer said.

We have 261 working days in a year. If we’re just talking about those 308 children, that’s less than a working day each to address their cases. That’s not counting the other matters this court addresses. Drug courts have a multitude of benefits to the community and the state, not just the participants that are selected to be in this program,” she said.

West Virginia Supreme Court justices Evan H. Jenkins, Tim Armstead, and John A. Hutchison attended the opening ceremony for Jackson County’s drug court.

Jenkins said there has never been a more important time for programs like drug court.

“The opioid epidemic – it is the most challenging public health and public safety issue of our time. The whole idea of an adult drug court or a juvenile drug court is looking for a new way to address an epidemic,” he said.

Armstead said he has personally witnessed drug court reunite families.

“One of the most inspiring things we’ve seen, in my opinion, from drug court is where the participants who are graduating have their children with them. You can see the hope that is there in that family that wasn’t there before. That’s incredible,” he said.

Hutchison said he believes the teams who make drug court possible are among the state’s greatest heroes. More than 800 people a year lose their lives to overdoses in West Virginia. Drug court can play a role in preventing some of those deaths.

“I just want to thank everybody who’s a part of this. You are my heroes. The reason you’re my heroes is because your success saves lives. You save the lives of the participants, but you also save the lives of the parties and families of the participants,” he said.