Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Drug Courts receive treatment grants

November 21, 2017

Two federal grants will allow the Third and Fourth Circuit Drug Courts to add mental health screening and treatment for Drug Court participants. Grant funds also assist the 15th Circuit Drug Court in expanding treatment services.

The Third Circuit Drug Court, which includes Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Lafayette, Marshall, Tippah and Union counties, received approval for an $850,000 grant Oct. 1.

Judge Prentiss Harrell and Judge Margaret Carey-McCray

The Fourth Circuit Drug Court, made up of Leflore, Sunflower and Washington counties, received approval in September for a $400,000 grant.

The 15th Circuit Drug Court, which includes Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion and Pearl River counties, benefits from two grants obtained by Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources. In October 2016, funds became available from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to pay salaries of a clinician and a peer support specialist to assist Drug Court participants. The BJA grant totals $898,209 to be spread over three years. In October 2017, funds became available from a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help pay for drug rehabilitation treatment at Clearview Recovery Center. The SAMHSA grant totals $898,131, to be spread over three years. A total of 260 people were enrolled in the 15th Circuit Drug Court at the end of October, according to the Administrative Office of Courts.

Circuit Judge Prentiss Harrell of Hattiesburg said, “It comes at a time when mental health support services are increasingly inaccessible and cost prohibitive. Our Recovery Support Project has immense potential to positively impact participants because substance abuse and mental health disorders often go hand in hand.”

“We are so excited about being able to extend our services,” said Fourth Circuit Judge Margaret Carey-McCray of Greenville. “It gives us resources to do much more and to give some individualized and targeted services to people who are struggling with alcohol and drug issues and mental health issues.”

Judge Carey-McCray hopes to have the mental health component operational by March. The grant will allow the Drug Court to obtain the services of a masters level mental health therapist, a peer support specialist and a supervising officer for the participants.

Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth of Oxford, who supervises the Third Circuit Drug Court, said that he has already put several Drug Court participants into in-patient or intensive out-patient mental health treatment. As many as 100 Drug Court participants will be able to obtain needed mental health care at no cost each year through the grant. Before the Drug Court obtained the grant, people who needed mental health services were expected to pay for it themselves, which was difficult, Judge Howorth said. In a few extreme cases, the Drug Court paid for the treatment when participants and family were unable to pay, but the program had no funds specifically budgeted for mental health treatment.

A total of 271 participants were enrolled in the seven-county Third Circuit Drug Court at the end of September, according to the Administrative Office of Courts. In the Fourth Circuit, which is made up of three counties, 120 people were enrolled in Drug Court at the end of October.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance grants are spread over three years. The Drug Courts will work in partnership with the Department of Mental Health’s Region 2 Communicare in the Third Circuit District and the Department of Mental Health’s Region 6 in the Fourth Circuit.

Region 2 Mental Health will have two people dedicated to providing services for Third Circuit Drug Court participants, Judge Howorth said. One is a mental health therapist and the other is a social worker who will help participants locate other resources to assist in their care.

People with mental health disorders are more likely to experience drug or alcohol abuse, according to SAMHSA. Dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders are terms that refer to the simultaneous occurrence of a mental illness and alcohol or drug abuse. Approximately 7.9 million adults in the United States had co-occurring disorders, according to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Judge Carey-McCray said, “All along, we tried to take in as many people as we could with dual diagnosis.” About 35 percent of those people had to leave the program because they were not able to comply with Drug Court requirements, she said. More specialized care was needed. “We didn’t have the resources to do something different.”

Judge Howorth said that part of the difficulty for people with a dual diagnosis has been that the Drug Court had to rely on the participants to tell staff what their mental health issues were. Some could have been misdiagnosed, and some may not have understood the diagnosis. Having mental health staff available to devise a treatment plan and assist with compliance will improve outcomes.

Judge Harrell said, “The clinician interviews every participant and he tailors a program to fit them. It’s a more effective approach.” The peer support specialist works with the participants to connect them with recovery support services.