Drug Court helps ex-addict beat demons | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Drug Court helps ex-addict beat demons

Adam Jensen

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerald Lasarow congratulates Todd Noonan, the first graduate of Tahoe's Adult Felony Drug Court, on Friday.

Todd Noonan was freshly groomed and wore a suit as he spoke to an El Dorado County Superior Court judge last week.

Noonan talked about a man who no longer existed, a person who had vanished in one final puff of smoke.

The man, Noonan recalled, wouldn’t go anywhere without his methamphetamine pipe.

He would set off to the store and not return to his family for days.

He would blister his hands on the incessant heat of his glass pipe – the addiction consuming his waking moments.

But then, a long, exhausting catharsis – amid doubters.

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“All of us, except for maybe his attorney, thought he’s not going to make it,” Judge Jerald Lasarow said of the man.

But he did make it.

Noonan was speaking about himself, or rather, the man he was before he graduated from the county’s Adult Felony Drug Court on Friday. Noonan was the first to complete the program.

The court, a partnership between several agencies in El Dorado County funded by a California grant, provides treatment to people who struggle with substance abuse and have committed nonviolent felonies, especially pregnant women and parenting adults.

“For many participants, this program is their last hope,” Shirley White, supervising health-education coordinator with the El Dorado County Public Health Department, said in a statement. “This program requires accountability and hard work, but it also has a strong support and guidance component. We are very hopeful that it will make a real difference for these families and for our community.”

Drug Court participants are required to attend two group counseling sessions and three 12-step program meetings a week. They’re also required to participate in individualized treatment – such as anger management, mental health, job training or parenting classes – depending on their needs, said Drug Court coordinator Tiffany Ellis.

According to court documents, Noonan pleaded no contest to a single count of burglary in December 2005 and was sentenced to three years’ probation in January 2006.

He violated probation three times for possessing a methamphetamine pipe, testing positive for meth and failing to show up to an appointment with probation officers, the documents indicated.

Noonan, who used drugs for 27 years, was accepted into drug court after the third violation, and court records show nothing but positive progress since.

Going through the program was difficult and sometimes painful, Noonan said at his graduation, but completing the court’s requirements has been worth it.

The program is modeled after similar drug courts being created throughout California. Studies indicate a significant cost-benefit savings to counties that implement the programs.

“When someone is struggling with the disease of addiction, it is much less expensive to provide treatment services than to put them in prison,” White said in the statement. “Recidivism rates are much lower for those that successfully graduate from drug court programs. The key is providing the appropriate level of treatment necessary to help clients make needed changes and actively monitoring each case.”

Lasarow raised the specter of relapse while congratulating Noonan on Friday, saying “you’re kind of alone” after graduation but assured Noonan the people involved with Drug Court still are there to help.

Among their graduation requirements, Drug Court participants must have a support system of people to contact in case they feel headed for a relapse, Ellis said.

Today, Noonan holds down two jobs and has found new peace inside his home with his wife, son and daughter.

He has been clean for nearly a year.

On Friday, Noonan thanked Jesus Christ, Lasarow, Ellis and El Dorado County for his success.

“Addicts are people, too – we just need help,” Noonan said.

Six people currently are participating in Lake Tahoe’s Adult Felony Drug Court program, and up to 20 people are expected to participate by the end of the year.