Oklahoma drug court program would be gutted by budget cuts
Yvette Guthrie, 32, of Chandler, credits Oklahoma's drug court program with giving her a new life.
A survivor of childhood abuse, Guthrie says she turned to drugs and alcohol as a teenager.
"It was only through the many years of counseling that I got from the drug court program that I was able to deal with my issues and the trauma that happened to me," Guthrie said.
She started drinking at 14. At 18, she used methamphetamine for the first time.
"I can't even imagine what my life would be like without the drug court program," Guthrie said. "I would easily be dead."
With as much as $75 million in cuts looming for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Guthrie is now worried that other Oklahomans won't have access to the same services that helped her escape addiction.
The state agency announced earlier this month that it would be forced to eliminate all outpatient services without additional funding from the Oklahoma Legislature.
Founded in 1995, Oklahoma's adult drug court program offers counseling, regular drug testing and other supports as an alternative to incarceration.
There are 4,000 active drug court participants in the state who receive certified treatment through the program and could see their services cut beginning Dec. 1 if the Legislature fails to reach a budget deal that secures more mental health funding.
"The path to treatment will not be drug court if that program is cut," agency spokesman Jeff Dismukes said. "More people will become critically ill without outpatient treatment, causing an increased and crushing demand on what services are left."
At a news conference earlier this month, Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said without additional appropriations the agency would have to cut outpatient counseling and other services that serve 189,000 Oklahomans.
"These are basic programs keeping people employed and with their families," White said.
In 2009, Guthrie was in jail after possession charges led to an arrest warrant when she failed to complete her community sentencing program. At age 21, she was looking at prison time.
"I was in my cell and I looked up, looked around and said, 'I cannot do this anymore,'" she said.
Guthrie wrote a judge and asked to enter the Oklahoma County Drug Court program.
In drug court, Guthrie was able to receive outpatient services including counseling sessions, as well as assistance obtaining housing at a sober living home. There were also other supports, like a free bus pass.
Even the bus pass helped keep her sober, she said. Without a car, a free bus ride meant she could make it to her court dates, counseling sessions and job without relying on rides from old friends, who were still using drugs.
When she first entered the program, Guthrie said she still had the "brain of an addict," but slowly, she started to see changes in the way she viewed the world.
"I wanted to make my counselors proud. I wanted to make my judge proud and show people that I wasn't just a damaged girl to be thrown away," she said.
The drug court program keeps thousands of Oklahomans out of jail and prison every year, according to agency records.
Drug court graduate rearrest rates are at 23.5 percent, compared with 38.2 percent of people who complete standard probation and 54.3 percent of released prison inmates, records show.
Guthrie relapsed after about a year of sobriety, but she qualified for three months of inpatient treatment at Monarch Inc., a nonprofit drug rehabilitation center in Muskogee through the drug court program.
The three months to focus solely on sobriety were invaluable to rebuilding her life, she said.
"I didn't know how to have a normal relationship, be an adult or maintain any sort of normal lifestyle," Guthrie said.
Today, Guthrie is happily married and has custody of her two children and stepson. She also owns a home and works full time.
"I wouldn't be the person I am today, to receive these blessings today that I have in my life, without drug court," she said. "If you would have asked me back then — I thought nobody would ever want to marry me — I would have told you I would never have a life like I have now."