Hillsborough program makes treatment, not jail, first stop for low-risk addicts arrested on drug charges

Chris Harmon is living his best life these days, but it wasn’t always the case.

"I would probably be in prison likely somewhere in Ocala," he said.  

Harmon served as a U.S. Marine for eight years, but once home, he hit the bottle hard and soon hit rock bottom. Staring at a drug charge he was looking at prison time, but instead, Harmon tried Drug Treatment Court.

"Veteran or civilian, sometimes all you need is just a chance to make your life better and turn things around," explained Harmon.  

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And now more people will get a chance to do just that because a new drug program is being rolled out in Hillsborough County. State attorney Andrew Warren says this is not for drug dealers or violent criminals. This program is for people who need help with addiction, not jail.

"For low-risk drug offenders who are not accused of no other serious crimes DETRR offers an off-ramp away from the downward spiral of drug abuse, arrest and incarceration,” Warren explained. 

The DETRR program, which stands for Drug Education & Treatment Reducing Recidivism has three levels. 

Once the defendant qualifies for one, they must stay out of trouble for six months. While substance abuse treatment is encouraged in level one, it’s a "must" in levels two and three. And you only get one shot at it. If you're successful, you get your drug charge dismissed. 

Warren says this new program a bit different than Drug Treatment Court.

"Drug court works and it's most effective for people that are classified as high-risk to become repeat offenders," added Warren.

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It also has more extensive mental health and drug treatment programs available to those at higher risk of re-offending. Warren believes treatment and rehabilitation are more effective and cost less than prison. 

Harmon is proof the program works when you work with the program.

"You will truly make it you just have to put one foot in front of the other.  Now I can enjoy my life with my son and I'm better also," Harmon shared. 


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