Akron Recovery Court helps offenders struggling with addiction

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AKRON, Ohio – An Akron Municipal Court room was filled Thursday morning with Recovery Court participants, who were arrested for a misdemeanor tied to drug addiction.

Marie Burger-Rutter was in the front row.

“I went in front of the judge and said you know what, I need help and if I don't go to residential treatment, I'm going to die and I don't want to die, please help me,” she said.

Marie said marijuana and alcohol use as a teen progressed to harder drugs in her twenties and spiraled into a decade consumed by addiction, including jail time and losing custody of her four sons.

“From the first time I did meth to  eight months later, I had lost everything I ever loved. I lost my home, I lost my children, I lost my job, I lost my freedom,” she said.

After nearly dying from a fentanyl overdose, she said she got serious about sobriety and credits Recovery Court and her faith with saving her life.

“For me, that's what's kept me sober, is learning that God loved me,” she said.

September marks national recovery month, a time to celebrate those recovering from addiction.

Since it began in 1995, Akron's Recovery Court has helped more than 1,000 graduates find sobriety.

It can help participants avoid jail and in some cases, lead to charges being dismissed.

“To simply lock someone in jail and expect them to recover from the disease of addiction, it doesn't work,” said Akron Municipal Court Judge Jon Oldham, who presides over Recovery Court.

He said the program merges treatment with accountability.

“The most important part of Recovery Court is the treatment component, because without treating the active disease of addiction, it's not a question of will the person reoffend? It's pretty much when will they reoffend?” he said.

The program also offers support, including through recovery coaches. After graduating from Recovery Court, Marie spent nearly three years working as a recovery coach. She was recently promoted to a supervisor role with Oriana House. She’s been sober for four years.

“Just as much as they need me, I need them, because they help me stay sober every single day, because if I can do it, they can do it,” she said. “I understand how it is to be completely hopeless, but all it takes is just a little bit of faith.”

Marie also said it’s important to first ask for help.

Other similar drug courts exist throughout the region and country and can save thousands of dollars per participant in reduced prison and court costs.

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