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Show 1712: SOARing Higher
Air Date: March 19, 2017
Rob McClendon: Well, the state is set to receive close to a million dollars from the federal government to battle opioid abuse. Drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma increased eightfold from 1999 to 2012, many of these from powerful prescription painkillers. Now, Oklahoma is one of 11 states with a dramatic increase in the abuse of heroin and other legal opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. According to the latest national statistics, Oklahoma has the 10th highest drug poisoning death rate, surpassing the number of people killed in car accidents each year.
Rob McClendon: Well, breaking the cycle of addiction is one of the goals of a program in Ada, Oklahoma, called SOAR. Our Austin Moore shows us how the group is using our state motto of “Labor conquers all” to change lives.
Austin Moore: Judge Tom Landrith has seen the cycle too many times.
Tom Landrith: We put drug addicts in the penitentiary and they come out better drug addicts than when we put them in.
Austin: Because of that frustration, Judge Landrith helped establish the Pontotoc County Drug Court in 1997, where participants opt to sign a contract agreeing to go through treatment in a court administered program or submit to lengthy jail time.
Landrith: A lot of the terms of the contract are pretty complicated, but as far as what you get if you do not fulfill your end of the contract, it is really simple. It’ll say drug court or 30 years. I’ve had three that were drug court or life. And as a general rule, I think the average would be about 9.6 years. It is a pretty harsh sentence because we are gonna invest a lot of time and as many resources as we can into your recovery, and it’s a 24-month program.
Austin: The National Association of Drug Court Professionals reports that for every dollar spent on a drug court, taxpayers save $3.36 on incarceration costs. But when they went looking for that dollar, Judge Landrith and his peers came to a freeing realization.
Landrith: We could use the recovery program for the men to help fund the drug court itself. And we formed two 501(3)(c) corporations to put that in motion.
Austin: Creating the Southern Oklahoma Addiction Recovery Center, or SOAR. Doug Davis is the executive director.
Doug Davis: SOAR is a therapeutic work program. We take nonviolent drug offenders. We’re a minimum of a six-month program to one year. We have employers that we put guys to work. So their earnings go directly to the facility while they are here. It pays for their room and board, their counseling groups, transportation and such.
Austin: The core of the program is straightforward. It is to remind these men through work what it is to feel useful.
Davis: The guys will come in and tell me, “I ain’t never worked before.” Because I ask them what kind of work they do? What kind of skills do you have? And you’ll be surprised how many will tell you, “I’ve never had a job.” And I’m talking 25-30-year-old men has never had a job. Their job was to sell drugs and hustle things on the street. And that’s what they’ll tell me. And placing them at a job, you can see the change in ‘em. You can see the change in ‘em when we get those doors of opportunity opened up for ‘em. You know, even if it is just going down to Leachco and working eight hours a day. It’s something they have never done before but yet they feel good about theirself. And they’ll sit, and we’ll talk about it in groups. And they tell me how they feel about theirself, of actually going and earning their keep, earning their way – paying their way while they’re here.
Austin: Over the years, the success of SOAR and similar programs has been undeniable. Unfortunately, these programs are usually only available to men, so Pontotoc County leaders recently opened the Landrith House, a sober living facility for women.
Davis: It’s not ran like the men’s facility, but it is a structured environment, very structured environment for a sober living home.
Austin: Unlike the SOAR house, the women here get jobs where they earn their own money and then pay their way in the facility. However, just like the men’s program, Landrith House is dedicated to keeping the women busy and engaged in community activity while helping them develop new habits and new options, an opportunity for change that gives Laura Robuck hope to rebuild the family that drugs tore apart.
Laura Robuck: It helps a lot. That’s what I couldn’t do going back to the same county. Yeah, I needed to get out. I couldn’t stay there, not without my husband and my children, not being able to have my family.
Austin: A change of habit and of setting that is so crucial to drug recovery.
Davis: I hate to see it when guys roll out of here and they have to go back to the same place that they just came out of, you know. Because the majority of ‘em don’t stay, can’t stay straight. Can’t fight it off. I know people that don’t know anything about drugs or addiction don’t really realize that and they think, well, “If you went and did six months, you’ve been clean for six months, why can’t you stay straight?” Well, you’re an addict, you know, or you’re an alcoholic. And if you go back and place yourself right back in the same position that you was at, it’s like going to the barbershop. You go sit in there enough times, you are going to get a haircut.
Austin: Often leaving the best option building a new life in a new community, which is what Landrith House, like SOAR, hopes to jump-start.
Landrith: This facility will hold six. And then we’ll do another one and put some more in there and gradually get it up where we take up the whole block. We may start out small, but we think big.
Austin: A lofty goal to deal with a massive problem.
Landrith: When you’re ranked No. 1 in locking up women, there’s only two conclusions you can draw, you know: either women in Oklahoma are meaner than anybody else or there’s something wrong with the system.
Rob: To put programs like SOAR into perspective, it costs roughly $6,000 a year to educate a student and almost four times that amount to keep someone locked up. Now, if you’d like to learn more about the work underway to find alternatives to incarceration, I have the personal story of SOAR product Doug Davis, as well as several of our past justice reform stories streaming on our website under our value added section.