The biggest hurdle to the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction is stigma, according to state Department of Drug and Alcohol Deputy Secretary Cheryl A. Dondero, who spoke at Wednesday's DUI and drug treatment court program graduation at the Lycoming County Courthouse.
"We have to get rid of the stigma," Dondero said.
After many months and even years of hard work, that stigma slowly is fading away for some offenders.
As they rack up their clean time, they begin to beam with a new kind of confidence and pride.
"You've been asked to do so much and you stepped up to the plate and really blossomed," President Judge Nancy Butts, who oversees the program, told one of the graduates.
"Thank you for seeing the good in all of us and giving us a chance," graduate Carl G. said.
Interestingly, many graduates expressed gratitude to the same judicial system that had convicted them - citing the success of the treatment court program.
"I want to thank the probation department, treatment court, West Branch Drug and Alcohol Commission and Crossroads. You guys all helped me to stay on the right path," Carl G. said.
Many offenders, such as James N., serve their sentences bitterly at first but eventually come around to the benefits of the program.
"I want to thank the court system," James N. said.
Dondero reminded her audience that staying clean has to come first in their lives.
"You gotta do the next right thing. Put half the energy into recovery that you put into using. As soon as you don't make your recovery your No. 1 priority, everything else falls apart," Dondero said.
Instead of incarceration, addicts and alcoholics should be given a clinically-appropriate level of treatment followed by close monitoring and after-care, according to Dondero.
Currently, 45 percent of the state budget goes to corrections and 45 percent goes to welfare programs.
"If you want to find money, stop sending addicts to jail and get them treatment," Dondero said.
One addict said he watches the show "Lock Up" every night because "it reminds me where I'll be going if I screw up one more time."
For many, the hardest thing is accepting that they have a problem.
"I can never take a drink of alcohol again. It makes me into a person I don't want to be," Carl G. said.
Graduates were enthusiastically applauded by their peers, with whom they shared hugs and tears.
"I'm speechless. I just want to thank everyone for drug court. It saved my life," graduate Nate D. said.