08/16/04 — Duplin treatment program sees success

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Duplin treatment program sees success

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on August 16, 2004 1:57 PM

WARSAW -- Five more people have graduated from a drug and alcohol treatment program that has been praised for having a high success rate.

The ceremony was held Tuesday at the Mental Health building in Warsaw for Duplin County's Treatment Alternat-ives to Street Crimes, or TASC, program.

The program works this way:

A judge gives a defendant a choice between going to prison or going through TASC. The person who chooses TASC is assigned a probation officer and a mental health treatment professional.

TASC Director Gary Connolly and his staff administer the program in Eastpointe mental health services' four counties, which include Wayne, and in Greene County.

They do frequent drug screenings. Those who repeatedly fail the tests are sent back to prison or to a residential rehabilitation program like Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Treatment.

When the program started in the spring of 1998, Connolly had expected about four people a year to graduate. He exceeded that number the first year.

"We see miracles happen here," said Connolly.

Willie Godbold was in the first group to enter the TASC program in Warsaw.

"I thought I'd die a drunk," said Godbold, who said he has been sober for five years. "I'd been drinking and drugging 25 years."

He went to about four self-help meetings a week. "I needed it," he said. "It really saved my life."

Godbold was the only one who finished the program that first year. Today, he and another alumnus, Joseph Kennedy, help those going through the TASC program.

Kennedy, who has also been sober for five years, entered the program on a Tuesday night. "That Monday night, I was going to blow my head off," he said. "I did quit, and I didn't have to shoot myself."

Connolly said he and his staff don't give up on people, and the program has had a 42 percent success rate this past year. That's higher than most of the government's substance abuse programs, he said.

He said it costs $30,000 to keep one person in prison for a year. The TASC program can treat a person for $6,000 over the same period.

"You save the taxpayer a ton of money," he said. "That's why everybody gets excited about it.

"It's a touching thing when people tell you what alcohol does to everything and everyone around them. They can tell you some heart-wrenching stories. ... Most of the guys who have drug and alcohol problems aren't bad people. But all of them say their crimes were drug or alcohol related."

Connolly has about 20 people in the program, which is funded with a $68,000 state grant.

Eastpointe Mental Health Director Jack St. Clair said TASC is "just touching the surface."

"There are so many needs," he explained. "We can't expand the program as we would like to. ... If we could multiply this program three or four times, we could save a lot more lives in this county."