York County woman addicted to opiates finds hope in new drug rehabilitation program

Updated: Nov. 14, 2019 at 9:34 PM EST
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YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - Officials in the York County judicial system are trying something out of the box in an effort to combat the opioid epidemic.

“We are seeing so many overdoses, particularly with the rise of fentanyl,” 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said. “So many people are dying, and we realized we had to be willing to try something different.”

York County was awarded a federal grant to be the first agency to try the pilot program called OJP30. OJP stands for Office of Justice Programs, 30 represents the number of defendants participating in the program.

“This is not an issue that we arrest our way out of,” Sheriff Kevin Tolson said. “It’s an issue of prevention, education and treatment.”

Under the new program, deputies or corrections officers at the York County Sheriff’s Office will follow a checklist that screens people who were recently arrested for the OJP30 program. For example, the defendant must not have a criminal conviction for violent crimes in the past 10 years and must have no arrests or convictions for domestic violence or sex crimes.

“These are not people who we have any reason to believe they are a danger to the public. We are looking at their past, their criminal history, if any,” Solicitor Brackett said. "No violence, assaults, anything that would give us an indication that they are anything more than an addict.”

While deputies screen the inmate for the program, the inmate must fill out a form that includes questions about their drug history. Once the questionnaire is complete, the inmate must also sign a form indicating they are requesting help battling their addiction to opioids, and are agreeing to take part in the York County Medically Assisted Drug Treatment Court.

The defendant will be released on a personal recognizance bond, meaning they do not have to pay cash to be released from jail. Once released, an employee from Keystone Substance Abuse Services will immediately pick them up from the Moss Justice Center and take them to Keystone Substance Abuse Services in Rock Hill to begin treatment.

“The crimes they’re committing are related to their addiction, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to get treatment, not incarceration,” Executive Director of Keystone Substance Abuse Services Danielle Russell said.

The defendant will go through another screening with a Keystone employee.

“They will need to meet mild, moderate, or severe opioid use disorder to qualify for the program. Opioids must be the primary substance. I do the assessment, then they meet with the doctor and the doctor prescribes medication,” Lead Clinical Counselor for Keystone Substance Abuse Services Kevin Patton said.

The medication prescribed will be buprenorphine and naltrexone, which are FDA approved medications that suppress cravings and block receptors from euphoric highs, according to Keystone employees.

Emma Baker is 22 years old and has been clean since joining the program two months ago. She takes buprenorphine daily.

“It almost tricks your brain into thinking that you’re on the drugs that you would try to do normally, but it doesn’t give you the effects the drugs would give you,” Baker said. “If you were to try to use drugs you wouldn’t even feel them, it makes it so you can’t even get high.”

Baker says she’s been abusing drugs since she was a teen. After several years of trying to get sober on her own, she finally told her family about her addiction about a year ago.

“It took a long time for me to actually like really go and push myself to do it, because you have to really want that for yourself to do it and do it the right way,” Baker said.

York County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Baker in September. She’s accused of stealing a debit card from her roommate and withdrawing $65.00 from the account. When she was booked into jail, she was screened for OJP30.

“As bad as it was the circumstances that I was in, it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Baker said.

In addition to the medication that eases her cravings, she attends group classes and individual therapy sessions four days a week at Keystone. She says she’s learned more about her addiction and how to live a healthier lifestyle.

“For that being your lifestyle for so long you’re used to going and texting people and doing these things, so it took a lot of lifestyle change and self-awareness,” Baker said.

Unlike drug court, completing MAT drug court does not dismiss the charges. Emma’s criminal case is still pending, but no matter the outcome, she’s finding hope in her success thus far.

“For the first time in my life I can finally say I’m proud of myself,” Baker said. “If it weren’t for this group, I don’t think I would be able to do what I’m doing now.”

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