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The Gallatin County Commission on May 3 proclaimed this month Drug Court Month in Gallatin County, a move intended to bring awareness to the Gallatin County Treatment Court program.

The county’s treatment court program, started in 1999, is an 18-month voluntary program that serves as an alternative for sentencing and incarceration for adults who have committed crimes surrounding or involving substance abuse. The program has had nearly 200 people graduate since it began.

“(The proclamation) solidifies the support we receive from the Gallatin County Commission and the state of Montana,” said Steve Ette, the director of Gallatin County Court Services. “It was nice to see that they understand how one person’s recovery can affect so many.”

Treatment court isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, Ette said. The treatment court team, which includes Ette, District Court Judge John Brown, public defenders, a prosecutor, a psychologist and a probation and parole officer, drafts a specialized plan for each participant that’s specific to that person’s needs to help them stay sober.

That can involve connecting participants in the program to local organizations and getting them in touch with necessities, like housing and food resources, to set them up for success.

Participants are also required to attend addictions counseling, mental health therapy, support groups, regular biweekly or triweekly drug and alcohol testing, community service and more. There are 20 people in treatment court now with another 23 applications pending and a capacity of 25.

To graduate from the program, participants have to meet a number of criteria, which includes staying clean from drugs and breaking the law for six months.

“We try to help them as much as we possibly can with any of the resources in the community to get them stable, get them working, get them sober,” Ette said. “Addiction isn’t something that you can just fix in a day or a week or even 18 months.”

COVID-19 threw a curveball to Gallatin County Treatment Court, as it has so many things in the public and private sector. Ette said the effects of the pandemic brought up a lot of questions for treatment court, including if or how to test people who are sick and how to safely verify if someone is telling the truth about symptoms or a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Beyond that, human interaction is a major part of recovery, Ette said, and it’s just not the same through a screen.

“Doing Zoom meetings for treatment or doing Zoom meetings for recovery groups, it hasn’t been as effective, and we’ve seen kind of a downturn” in the number of people who are able to complete the program during the pandemic, Ette said. “We work with them as long as we possibly can and try to get them to graduate the program, and those that do graduate do very well.”

Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner said in a news release announcing the commission’s proclamation that Treatment Court is one of the things the county should be most proud of in the past few decades.

“That’s 189 people who have been able to turn their lives around, not just for them but for their spouses, their children, their parents, their friends, and become very productive citizens in the community,” he said.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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