FOX13 Investigates: Fighting substance abuse through the court system

By: Mearl Purvis

Updated:

Charles Little has beaten some of the best in the game of pool, but in life, he couldn't beat his addiction to drugs until he was plucked for a grueling, no excuses, program through Shelby County Drug Court.

It’s an alternative sentencing program to reduce substance abuse and addiction for non-violent offenders., two of the costliest issues facing America today.

FOX13’s Mearl Purvis was given complete access to how the drug court gets it done. Purvis sat in on discussions the public will not hear. 


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We found out why 300 is the max for a program that saves millions in tax dollars and lives.

The people sitting around the table pouring over private court records have the power to change your son or daughter's life.  

They changed Charles Little.

Drug court graduation day means Little is off drugs after 27 years of abusing weed, cocaine, and crack and serving time for drug offenses.

"Your record will be clear. You can start over," said Little.

For 18 months, Judge Tim Dwyer and his drug court team tracked Little’s every move and held him accountable.

They checked where he went for fun, helped him find work, and monitored how the work was going.

The drug court team got him into a drug treatment facility and required scores of hours of abuse counseling every week, and every day Little and others in the program check in for notice about pop-up drug screening.

"I want my team to know that because i feel like that helps them a system in recovery," said Dwyer.  

There are a lot of resources to fix one person with a drug addiction, but doing nothing is worse.

Memphis has seen an 800% increase in heroin use and overdose in the last 5 years according to SCDA.

A 2009 report shows states spent more on substance abuse and addiction than medicaid, higher education transportation, or justice.

Increasingly, states are turning to alternative sentencing programs like Shelby County Drug Court to save money in the corrections budget and stop the drug abuse growth.

"It was a struggle to get where we are now," said Dwyer.

Judge Tim Dwyer has successfully run Shelby County's Drug Court for 20 years.

“Because I won't have nobody else telling me, I got to go to a meeting. I don't have to go to anymore drug screens so it's all on my own," said Little.

Judging by the history of other drug court graduates, only 1/4 fall back.  Little has a great chance of staying out of jail and staying away from drugs. 

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