By Chad Clem

Staff Writer

ELKINS – Randolph County Adult Drug Court officials celebrated the graduation of the program’s third participant in Randolph County Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Dawn DePriest, of Elkins, successfully completed the Randolph County Adult Drug Court Program in front of an audience of supporters that included friends, family, probation officers, magistrates and attorneys.

Johnny Meadows, the Randolph County Adult Drug Court coordinator, and Circuit Court Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong congratulated DePriest with applause and a certificate marking her completion of the program.

“I’m proud of her and the person she’s become,” Wilfong said.

“Success stories like these keep people in this profession going,” Meadows said.

DePriest said that, though her journey was a long and difficult one, she is grateful for her loved ones and the Drug Court officials who helped her along the way.

“The support, encouragement and rehabilitation are what really kept me going,” DePriest said. “They pushed me and helped get me to where I am today. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

DePriest said she struggled with drugs on and off for 20 years. In her mid-20s she turned to pain medication after a surgery procedure, and her addiction to medication led to her using heroin, she said.

DePriest said her addiction turned her life upside down, leading to alienation from family, and then, eventually, to homelessness. She said that she didn’t take treatment seriously and couldn’t seem to shake her habit, until she entered into the Adult Drug Court program.

The program, affectionately called “probation on steroids” by its officials, is very intensive and requires participants to check in every single day, be subjected to random drug testing and be involved in full-time service or employment.

The program also provides a support system of counseling and education, including lessons in money management and parenting classes. The program is broken up into three phases that each have a varying degree of intensity and help transition participants into being productive members of society again.

DePriest said that going through the program – which she completed in 15 months -was one of the hardest things she has ever done, but was ultimately one of the best decisions of her life.

“During Phase I (the most intensive phase of the program) I was very angry and thought that everyone was out to get me,” DePriest explained. “But by the time I entered Phase II of the program my thinking changed. I realized that these people are here to help me. I knew that I could do it.”

DePriest said that the best part about the program is the community of support for those involved.

“Drug addiction is a terminal illness,” she said. “For many people, it’s a death sentence. This program changed my life. I may not be alive today if it wasn’t for this program and the people who helped me through it.”

The Randolph County Drug Court currently has 19 participants, which Meadows says is a healthy case load.

“The purpose of this program is to give people the treatment that they need,” said Meadows. “We are trying to keep people out of the correctional system. There is evidence that traditional methods haven’t been working. This is a program centered around rehabilitation rather than incarceration, and those that come out of this program successfully do so better than when they came in.”

Meadows said that DePriest’s success is celebrated by all who are involved with the program.

“If look back at how rough Dawn had it, how much she went through and what she’s worked for, it’s remarkable,” Meadows said. “There were obstacles and bumps along the way but she made it and we are very proud of her.”

Adult Drug Court has a 50 percent success rate state-wide.

“I think people are under the misconception that this program is an easy out or that it’s a slap on the wrist,” said Wilfong. “That’s not true. If you ask any of the people who have gone through the program, they’ll tell you that it’s not easy. It’s a challenge each and every day.

“Going to jail, serving your time, that’s easy. This program changes lives and allows people an opportunity to be a totally different person.”

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