Drug and alcohol addiction contributes to crime and tears apart families, according to those who see it every day in the criminal justice system. While the Faulkner County area has a few services in place to help addicted people who want to get better, some with expertise on the subject believe Conway is overdue for a state-funded drug and alcohol treatment center.
Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock has arrested plenty of people who let their addiction drive them to bad choices.
"If you have somebody that is addicted to a drug, that is someone’s family member," he said. "I’ve seen countless times where somebody has gotten addicted to meth or whatever substance and it really has rocked the whole family. That’s always something to bear in mind. When they need help and they want help, I’m absolutely for second chances — not for a drug dealer, but for a drug user — sometimes even third chances, to restore them back to the person they were before they got addicted to drugs."
Chemical abuse and crime
Shock said drugs have a profound affect on the criminal justice system from top to bottom.
"We have so many people in jail because of drugs. They have a meth addiction and they kick in doors and steal and forge checks and write hot checks and do whatever they can to get drugs. You have folks who have gotten out over and over again, and their family doesn’t want anything to do with them because they steal."
While he is in favor of second chances for those who want to get better, Shock said some people just will not change.
"If they can’t follow the rules of society, they need to be removed from society and put in a correctional facility," he said.
Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland commented that, while rehabilitation is important, addiction is no excuse for breaking the law.
"There’s no question drug or alcohol abuse is either a contributing factor or serves as the primary motivation in the vast majority of our crimes," he said. "We all hope that rehabilitation is successful in the lives of people who are addicted. However, true rehabilitation requires taking personal responsibility, and the harsh reality is most of the criminals we deal with aren’t big on personal responsibility. As a result, from a criminal justice perspective, I subscribe to Ronald Reagan’s notion that we should reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the law breaker."
The case for local treatment
Attorney Frank Shaw has practiced law in Conway for many years and has represented clients with drug and alcohol programs, as well as urging them to get help. He is running for State Representative on a platform of bringing a state-funded drug and alcohol treatment facility to Conway.
"Since 1995, I have been on a crusade to get a drug treatment facility in Conway," he said. "Now we have a treatment facility across the river in Perry County that has been an outgrowth of the need in Faulkner County to help people with drug and alcohol problems. They do a great job at Renewal Ranch. It’s a Christian-based program with a couple of criteria. The problem is there is not one bed in our county to treat one person for drugs and alcohol or psychiatric problems."
Shaw said he estimates 95 percent of crime is related to drugs, alcohol or mental disorder.
"No one breaks in your house to steal your TV to watch ‘The Price is Right.’ They break in and steal it to sell it to buy some dope," he said.
Shaw said while substance abuse is both a criminal and a medical problem, people are not getting medical treatment, and the criminal sanctions they receive won’t take away that problem. He said treating the medical problem is more humane and less expensive than continuing to incarcerate the same offenders repeatedly without treating them.
Types of treatment
Lisa Ray, program director for the Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies at the University of Central Arkansas, explained the different types of treatment available throughout the state.
"The only thing you can get in Faulkner County is standard outpatient treatment. I have a private practice, so if people can afford it, they can come see me. Counseling Associates has outpatient counseling. Otherwise, they have to go to Pulaski County. If they are going to be supported by state funding, they have to go to Russellville," she said.
Another type of treatment is intensive outpatient, which involves 12 weeks of going to an outpatient facility four evenings a week and Saturday mornings while remaining at home and continuing to work, she said. Inpatient programs can be residential, which are 30 to 45 days, or detox, which are three to five days. Ray said a three-to-five day medical detox is typical for people who are addicted to alcohol and benzodiazepines, because those patients could die during detox.
Ray also acknowledged the work of Renewal Ranch and Phoenix House, a halfway house in Conway. However, she pointed out neither of them have clinical staff. Support options that are not considered treatment include peer support groups like AA and drug court, which in the 20th Judicial District is run by Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson, and which Ray helped set up.
"It’s tragic. If you look around the state, most towns that are comparable to Conway in size have a treatment facility."
Decision Point in Bentonville, Harbor House in Fort Smith, The Mills Center in Searcy, Freedom House in Russellville, Recovery Centers of Arkansas in Little Rock and Quapaw House in Hot Springs are all 30 to 45-day treatment centers that receive state funding and take insurance, she said.
Ray said for Conway to get a treatment facility, residents would need not only to be convinced of the need, but also to be reassured for their safety.
"According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2007, 7.8 percent of adults (in the U.S.) needed treatment for an alcohol problem. That’s 19.3 million people."
She added, "It’s a political thing. It’s going to take the powers-that-be being supportive, but also the community awareness. Having a treatment facility in your community is not a scary thing. You’re not inviting a bunch of horrible people into your community. About 10 percent of any given community has a drug or alcohol problem. They’re there. If we don’t have a treatment facility, we’re not going to somehow keep the drug addicts or the alcoholics away. They’re just not treated."
(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)