Breckenridge recovery court speaker

Wednesday, March 15, 2017
From left: Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Paatricia Breckenridge, Amanda Overton Keith, Roy Marchant and Judge James Bickel. Ralph Pokorny/Daily Mail

When Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge was first elected as a circuit judge in Vernon County in 1982 she said she knew little about addiction and much of that turned out to be myth, during the 40th Vernon County Adult Recovery Court graduation Friday afternoon.

Breckenridge said she believed that treatment for addiction would only be successful if the person voluntarily sought treatment.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Jusice speaking at the 40 Adult Recovery Court Commencement ceremony. Ralph Pokorny/Daily Mail

About three months after her election she said she was given a gift.

"Valley Hope Treatment gave judges an opportunity to participate in all aspects of treatment like another patient," she said.

Breckenridge said that with the permission of a person going through the program she participated in all aspects of the treatment. Whatever the patient did, she did.

"It was a life changing experience for me. I believed in the myth that persons could not benefit from treatment unless they did it on their own. These were not there of their own choice," she said.

During group therapy sessions she saw patients held accountable and saw people supported when they honestly accepted responsibility for their actions.

"I learned from the men and women at Valley Hope that they did not seek treatment. Instead, each one was there because of some external circumstances -- going to jail, losing a job, losing a spouse or custody of children," she said.

"I learned what was important was not what prompted people to go through treatment," she said.

"I learned the human face of addiction. The person in treatment was a good person. No one wanted to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, and each one had suffered greatly as a result of their addiction. Each person there had found the personal strength to go on with their life," Breckenridge said.

"It changed my view of addiction," she said.

Breckenridge said the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report about substance abuse and addiction that was the subject of a Prevention Magazine article.

She said according to the article there is a new way of thinking of addiction that it is a disease of the brain, not a moral failing and that social support and treatment, not judgment is needed.

Breckenridge said there are more people living with a substance abuse problem than are living with cancer and the big difference is that while cancer patients seek care, only 2 percent of persons with substance abuse seek treatment. That is the result of society's attitude to addiction.

"It is a disease of the brain, not of choice," she said.

Breckenridge said that since the establishment of treatment courts thousands of people are living productive lives like Amanda and Roy.

"From the very first treatment court in Jackson County in 1993 to Vernon County's own program established in 2001 to our newest program in Jasper County, a veterans treatment program opening next month, Missouri has embraced treatment courts, she said.

Missouri has been a national leader in these programs from the very beginning. There are more treatment courts in Missouri than any other state in the nation. Currently there are 141 courts with more than 18,000 graduates, she said.

These courts make sense. They reduce the recidivism rate of offenders, she said.

"Ninety eight individuals have graduated from Vernon County programs and five drug free babies have been born," she said.

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