GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - It was a life and death battle tackled in Gwinnett County Thursday night. The Summit on Mental Health and Substance Abuse was held at the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville.
For Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathy Schrader, it started in her courtroom with criminal cases rooted in drugs abuse in particular opioids, painkillers, heroin, and heroin with fentanyl. As head of the county's Drug Court she said she would rather send someone to treatment than prison, but treatment facilities in Gwinnett County, she said, are too few.
“We are way behind the national average. As far as, brick and mortar resources, to provide services for people struggling,” said Judge Schrader.
Judge Schrader organized the summit to bring together leaders from all areas: judicial, law enforcement, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the DA's Office, providers, non-profits, and even former addicts.
One of those former addicted was 31-year-old Darla Driscoll, who was one of the success stories of the Drug Court.
“I'm a mother now. I have a 10-month-old, I'm married, college, going to school. I want to be a drug and alcohol counselor,” said Driscoll.
She said it has been a long way since dropping out of school in the sixth grade. Her story is among many of redemption and hope including the Chandlers. Their daughter Jennifer was killed in a car driven by her then husband who also went through Judge Schrader's drug court.
“He's got 10 years’ probation and he has to tell his story 1,500 times,” said Melvin Chandler.
It's the kind of innovation which is taking place in Gwinnett County. At the summit, resources were making connections to help stop drug abuse and related deaths which are up four-fold since 1999.
“This is an epidemic that knows no boundaries. And if we don't work together we're not going to win,” said Judge Schrader.
She said this was the first time she has organized a mental health substance abuse summit, but not the last.