Drug courts could be among Ky. budget casualties

Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-11 19:54:08-04

NEWPORT, Ky. -- Kentucky's drug courts could face huge budget shortfalls as lawmakers in Frankfort debate cuts aimed at paying down the state's more than $30 billion pension debt.

The drug courts, according to Campbell County Judge Karen Thomas, offer intensive case management for addicts in recovery.

"Drug courts can be expensive. You have case managers, you have to do drug testing, treatment pieces. All of these things cost money, and they're all coming out of the Court of Justice budget," she said.

But, Thomas added, it comes with a payback: This month, five people graduated from Campbell County's drug court. The process usually takes two to three years to complete. The most recent graduates paid a total of $25,000 in court fees, child support and restitution.

"The down side with addiction is, if you don't go into recovery, the outcome is you either jail or death," said Dr. Teresa Koeller. She specializes in addiction treatment with St. Elizabeth Physicians.

Kentucky had one of the highest overdose death rates in the country, according to a report released late last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For 2014, it stood at 24.7 deaths per 100,000; the national rate was about 15 per 100,000. Nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses from 2000 through 2014, the CDC says.

The drug court, she and Thomas said, is a far better alternative than jail because it brings medical attention and counseling to addicts who need the help.

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"Recently we've been finding, 'Hey, if we merge these two together, then the recovery rates are much better than without them separately,'" Koeller said.

Kentucky Senate Bill 126 could bring supplemental funding so drug courts could continue their work. Lawmakers haven't yet approved a two-year state spending plan, and the current legislative session is set to adjourn Tuesday.