It goes without saying that prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in this country. A whopping 52 million Americans over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In some cases, former service members among those addicted. They return home from war injured and are prescribed powerful painkillers; some struggle to wean themselves off the drugs and end up in trouble with the law.
Judge Robert T. Russell Jr. of the City Court in Buffalo, New York thinks vets in this situation deserve special consideration. Which is why, back in 2008, he established a special veterans’ treatment court and joined the nonprofit Veterans Healing Initiative.
There are now 131 courts for veterans suffering from drug addiction across the country like the one Judge Russell started. “It’s a vicious irony, as the soldier who served his country honorably is hooked on drugs by a military doctor and then the system tosses them aside,” Judge Craig Trebilcock, a colonel in the Army reserves who serves at the York County court, told Michael Smerconish of the Olean Times Herald.
One soldier the court helped is 29-year-old Justin Slesser. Nine years ago, he served in Iraq and was twice-injured due to falls from vehicles during his time overseas. After returning home, the Percocet he was prescribed for his pain wasn’t helping, so the Veterans Affairs doctors supplemented it with OxyContin. Like many others, Slesser became addicted to the drugs and when the doctors cut off his supplies, he started using heroin.
Slesser committed various crimes and wound up in the court of Judge Trebilcock, who sentenced him to a veterans treatment program. With its assistance, Slesser consolidated and addressed his legal troubles, got clean, and received treatment for his PTSD. “Without the veterans court, I’d probably be dead,” Slesser, who graduated from the treatment program two months ago, told Smerconish. He now works for a distribution company, which knows about his past and is cooperating with his treatment needs.
Judge Trebilcock said that Slesser “is highly intelligent, eloquent, was an outstanding sergeant in Iraq, and became an incredible addict who was essentially using his organizational skills learned in the Army to coordinate stealing, using drugs in a four- to five-county area with a number of other people. It took over a year, but we got him off the heroin, and he is once again highly successful.”
According to Justice for Vets, one in six soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from substance abuse, but with savvy members of the judiciary like Judge Trebilcock, more of them can make a clean start.
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