Carroll County Times

‘A better way of life’: ​​Carroll County’s Adult Drug Treatment Court celebrates latest class of graduates

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Two years after becoming sober, Westminster resident Kirstin Haga now helps others deal with the effects of substance abuse.

“I never would have believed that’s where I would be,” said Haga, 29, a medical office coordinator at Nimel Mental Health, which serves clients throughout the Baltimore-Washington region. “But I relate to it. … It’s not just a job.”


On Thursday, Haga and eight classmates officially graduated from Carroll County’s Adult Drug Treatment Court in a ceremony at Carroll Community College in Westminster. Family, friends and county officials filled the room to celebrate Class 37 and praise the program, which offers a range of treatment services as an alternative to jail time.

“I think the program honestly saved my life,” said Mount Airy resident Shelby Dodson, 30, another graduate whose service dog, Coco, sat by her side.


Dodson was an active Drug Treatment Court participant for 500 days, during which she had 27 court hearings, submitted 136 drug screens and attended 289 self-help meetings. She is now one of 281 Carroll County residents to have completed the program since its inception in 2007.

“I just can’t emphasize enough the height of the mountain that they climb to get where they are,” said Carroll County Circuit Judge Fred S. Hecker, who oversees the program. “It’s very difficult to be honest about one’s mistakes.”

Drug Treatment Court is an intensive program lasting a minimum of 13 months that creates an individualized treatment plan for participants as they submit to regular drug screenings and court appearances and are monitored by a probation agent and case manager.

Participants — who must be county residents, nonviolent offenders and over the age of 18 — are typically referred to the court by judges and attorneys. But Hecker stressed participation is voluntary and some individuals opt to serve jail sentences if they don’t think they can meet the program’s requirements.

Participants often have had multiple arrests due to their addiction, extended periods of incarceration and previously failed to get through substance abuse treatment.

“As long as you’re honest with [the program team] when you mess up or if you need help, they’ll go the extra mile to help you,” Dodson said.

Hecker said heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, along with alcohol, are the primary substances individuals abuse in the county. The Drug Treatment Court team enlists a number of community partners, from law enforcement agencies to sober living homes, to provide services to participants.

“Once they are out of orientation, we require — in addition to all the treatment and the self-help meetings and the testing and coming to court — they have to either be employed or be in school, or they have to do volunteer community service,” said Hecker, who added that the graduation rate is about 59%.

Graduates Michael Hagerty, Shelby Dodson and her dog "Coco," and Kirstin Haga, listen as the Honorable Fred S. Hecker makes the presentation of the "Honorable Michael M. Galloway Distinguished Graduate Award" during the Carroll County Drug Treatment Court Graduation, Class 37, held at Carroll Community College on Thursday, April 6. 2023. The award is named after the first Judge of the Carroll County Drug Treatment Court. The Carroll County Circuit Court's Adult Drug Treatment Court is a court-supervised program that combines treatment with individualized services to eligible drug offenders. In partnership with local enforcement agencies, the court employs a variety of strategies to help participants progress in treatment as they hold jobs or attend school.

Keeping participants busy is part of the program’s strategy to prevent relapse.

“When I first got here, I was terrified that I was gonna screw up,” said Paul Grove, 37, who entered Drug Treatment Court in January 2022 and finished the program in February. “I made it through without any hiccups.”

Grove said maintaining his schedule was the hardest part of the program. But he soon found work, first at Burger King and then as a painter, as he completed treatment at Mountain Manor Treatment Center and Nimel Mental Health.

“I definitely have found a better way of life,” said Grove, who also became engaged during his time in the program. “It just showed me how to live.”

Drug Treatment Court aims to help individuals achieve more than just maintaining sobriety, program manager Dena Black said. In addition to finding employment and housing, participants learn life and organizational skills and work to rebuild the trust of family and friends.

“We meet people where they’re at,” Black said. “We want to make sure that people come in and are successful in the program.”


Along with turning around lives, the program provides the county with significant financial savings. The average cost of incarcerating inmates in Carroll County is $60.55 per day, according to Hecker. Incarcerating just half of the average number of Drug Treatment Court’s participants would exceed the cost of the program itself.

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On March 16, the Board of Carroll County Commissioners unanimously approved a fiscal 2024 grant application to the Maryland Judiciary’s Office of Problem Solving Courts for $384,940.28 to support the program.

“One of the best comments I ever heard during the [graduation ceremony] testimonials was, ‘Nobody ever likes to get arrested, but if you’re going to get arrested, get arrested in Carroll County,’” Commissioners’ President Ed Rothstein said.

Hecker and Black both said their favorite part about working with the program is watching graduation and taking measure of how much participants have accomplished.

“A lot of the days here are very rough and people really struggle,” Black said. “But when you get to graduation and you see how far they’ve come and the great things that they’re doing it’s just amazing.”

As he handed graduates their certificates Thursday, Hecker reminded them that they should not let past struggles define their futures.


“None of you are addicts,” he said. “Your life may have taken a different direction but I would never put a label on you like that and you shouldn’t put a label on you like that because you’re bigger and better than that.”

To learn more about Drug Treatment Court, visit: