CHARLES TOWN — West Virginia suffers from one of the highest rates of illicit drug use in the country. Even worse, the state’s prison population is near to overflowing.
But there is good news and it was on display last week at the Jefferson County Judicial Center as area officials welcomed state Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin for the formal opening of the Eastern Panhandle Juvenile Drug Court.
The court, which is funded by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, seeks to provide a treatment alternative to incarceration for young people who have either developed a drug habit, or whom authorities suspect might be at risk for drug abuse.
The approach has enjoyed a rapid expansion throughout the state with 15 juvenile drug courts, as well as 13 adult drug courts, already in operation.
The Eastern Panhandle program, which was launched six weeks ago, is currently treating eight young people, according to Jefferson County Family Law Judge David P. Greenberg, who presides over the new court.
Greenberg, who spoke at last week’s reception, said the results have been “astonishing.” He said extensive drug testing has shown no violations and the young people are attending group counseling sessions with their parents.
That’s because drug courts have research to back up their claims of success, said Division of Probation Services Director Michael B. Lacy, who also spoke at the opening.
“(Drug courts) hold greater promise than probation supervision alone,” Lacy said.
Jefferson County Commission Patsy Noland noted that the scourge of drug use is a drag on businesses throughout West Virginia.
“It’s the No. 1 recruiting problem for business and industry,” she said. “There are plenty of jobs but people can’t pass a drug test, but more and more companies are requiring drug tests of their work force.’
Benjamin, who attended a recent drug court graduation ceremony in Wellsburg in the Northern Panhandle, served as keynote speaker at Jefferson County’s drug court opening on July 20. He said he has been moved by watching young people and adults turn their lives around and turn away from drug abuse.
He said the state’s judicial system is committed to making the program work.
“We don’t believe in giving up on them, not a single one of them,” Benjamin said. “We don’t believe in throwaway kids.”