Legal Ramifications of Drug Abuse in Austin, Texas

Texas is one of the most iconic of the 50 United States, and its capital city is Austin. The 11th most populous city in America is also known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and it was ranked by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation as one of the safest large cities in the country.[1] That honor may be due, in no small party, to the city’s adoption of drug courts as part of its landscape of addiction treatment.

The Background of Addiction in Austin

travis county drug arrests

Austin is the county seat of Travis County, home to 1.15 million people over a little more than 1,000 square miles. The Travis County Drug Diversion Court, also known as the System of Health Options for Release and Transition (or SHORT) was founded in 1993 to not only focus on substance abuse and the crimes caused thereof, but also to help its clients live clean and be productive members of the Austin-area community.

The idea for drug courts was borne out of necessity. The state of Texas officially reported 5,897 drug arrests (possessing drugs and selling drugs) in Travis County to the FBI in 2009, but the 2010 Community Justice Plan, commissioned by the Travis County Sheriff’s office and the Adult Probation Office found that 25,555 charges that were booked in Travis County were related to drugs in 2008. The Austin Cut reports that, out of all the drug arrests in Texas in 2009, marijuana accounted for 3,418, and cocaine and crack cocaine made up 1,528 arrests. However, the Texas State Legislative Budget Board released a 2007 report that said 92.6 percent of the felony drug arrests in Travis County were for crack or cocaine.[2]

Notwithstanding the contradictory numbers, Texas responded to the rising number of drug arrests by mandating that every county with a population of over 500,000 implement a drug court system. Travis is the fifth largest county in Texas.

Admission into the SHORT program entails the court conducting interviews and performing research into the person’s life and background. As much as this is to ensure that the court is working with a person whose infractions do not warrant harsher criminal penalties (such as a history of violent crimes or serious drug dealing charges), it also serves to help the court determine what form and extent of treatment can be best applied to give the person a chance at redemption and rehabilitation. The drug court intake phase is intended to put a human face on both the system and the person, facilitating a compassionate mindset on either side of the law.

The ‘Most Segregated City’ in Texas

However, Austin’s drug courts face a big problem: They are located in what Texas Monthly calls the “most segregated city” in the state (the University of Texas reported on U.S. Census data that shows Austin in the only large, fast-growing city in America with a declining African-American population[3]), and The Austin Cut found numbers to back up the troubling claim.[4] A 2005 study found that “over half of the SHORT clients were white.” Thirty-six percent were black, and only 8 percent were Hispanic, even though there were more than 430,000 people of Hispanic descent living in Austin in 2005.[5] In 2006, figures released by the Travis County Jail show the racial makeup of inmates was very evenly divided:

  • 2 percent white
  • 1 percent black
  • 6 percent Hispanic

A study commissioned by the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council in 2003 discovered that 52 percent of individuals going through the drug court system were white, 30 percent were black, and only 18 percent were Hispanic.[6]

drug court rate

recidivism rate

Falling Short

The pressures faced by the Austin drug court system have led to some sobering acknowledgements. An independent review conducted in 2009 discovered that people who participated in drug courts had a recidivism rate similar to individuals who did not participate (48 percent of people in the group were arrested again within two years; for the comparison group, made up of non-participants, the figure was 50 percent). In 2010, another review (conducted by NPC Research in Oregon) stated that the system was operating under outdated research methodologies and findings, and found 45 specific areas that required improvement. Some of them included participants entering the drug court program 75 days after they were arrested, while research suggests that people who start their program 20 days from the time of their arrest were less likely to be arrested in the future. Some participants spent just 10 seconds in front of a judge during their court appearances, while the standard of three minutes is considered minimal.

Another Travis County judge told the Statesman that the drug court system was very unstructured and lax; participants showed up for meetings late, without reprimand, and others were allowed to leave before their sessions had ended. There was no random drug testing, and the testing that did occur was very infrequent, which allowed participants to use drugs and then still present themselves as clean by the time they were tested.

Making a Dent

Notwithstanding the deficiencies in Austin’s drug court program, the legal community still believes in the value of the system. Speaking to the Statesman, a district judge said that the millions of dollars saved by simply “making a dent” in the number of people who have addictions that repeatedly put them behind bars will make more of an impact in the Austin-area community than any other endeavor.[7]

To that effect, Travis County’s pretrial services and probation department director secured $176,000 in county funding for three more drug abuse counselors, whose job it is to work exclusively with individuals making their way through the drug court program, providing intensive outpatient treatment and taking over from 11 outside treatment providers.

She has also worked with the district attorney to reduce the time between a person’s arrest and the first appearance in front of a drug court judge. As of

September 2012, that time period is 30 days; their stated goal is to make it 20 days.

The judges interviewed by the Statesman are also addressing the issue of unstructured court times, compelling participants to be present for the entire duration of the sessions and engendering an atmosphere of learning and observing how the drug court judge interacts with other participants.

One of the judges was in session when a 32-year-old man was congratulated for completing the program. The man, a longtime user of crack cocaine and marijuana, had rebelled against the program before settling in to the routine of counseling, group sessions, meetings, and drug testing. His progress was slower than anticipated, but he was clean enough to become the chief cafeteria cook in an Austin IRS building.

drug courts

The Star in the Lone Star State

The addiction treatment landscape in Austin is changing, and that may be due, in part, to the potential and success of the drug court program. Austin has consistently ranked as one of the safest major cities in the United State; in 2010, it had the fifth-lowest rate for violent crime (murder, aggravated assault, and rape); the third-lowest rate in 2012; and the second-lowest rate in 2013.[8]

The Austin Police Chief noted that, despite the city’s population boom, and “[having] a lot of folks with addictions to drugs and alcohol,” the low rate of violent crime gives Austin a lot to be proud of.

Some of the credit for Austin taking over its drug problem goes to former governor Rick Perry, who spearheaded a bipartisan campaign to adopt a newer approach to treating alcoholism and drug abuse. Ahead of the rest of the country, Perry prompted lawmakers to think of substance abuse as a disease, not a moral failing, and that changed attitudes towards dealing with first-time and low-level offenders. Providing progressive, non-combative methods of addressing the problem of drug use, while actually rewarding people for successfully completing the program by wiping or sealing their criminal records, led to the state of Texas closing prisons and saving hundreds of millions of dollars.

The effects have been felt far and wide across the Lone Star State. In his final speech as governor in January 2015, Perry noted that “repeat offenses by drug offenders are down,” and the state’s crime rate was the lowest it had been since 1968.[9]

As the capital city of one of the most populous, biggest, and renowned territories in the United States, Austin finds itself in the spotlight of addiction treatment. It’s an example both of how drug court programs aren’t infallible, but how maintaining those programs and believing in them – as well as believing in the potential of the people who come through those courts – can change lives and cities.

When asked to define what brings people to the area, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau homes in on the music. The music scene in the city was simply epic, and memories of the tunes that came out of Austin continue to push people into the city, so they can experience the ambience firsthand. But, with music and tourism comes something else. All of those people and all of that money tend to lead to drugs. When drugs enter the picture, addictions soon follow.

Thankfully, Austin is ahead of the curve, in terms of addiction. The city has a vibrant recovery community that provides a number of treatment options for people in need. That means people do not need to leave the area for care. They can get it close to home. These are some of the options available.

  1. Austin Travis County Integral Care: This organization provides a number of behavioral health services to adults in need. People struggling with homelessness or AIDS can get help here, and people with addictions can get help here, too. This organization provides outpatient detox services, so people can get away from dangerous drugs without feeling overwhelmingly ill. The organization provides a number of counseling services that could be critical for people struggling with addictions, mental health issues, or both. Case management is also available, so people have a supervisor helping to guide recovery. The organization provides no price sheets or insurance information, but counselors are available to answer questions and provide support. There are a number of services provided to the homeless, so it is reasonable to assume that treatments are provided to people who cannot afford to pay for them. To find out more, call 512-472-4357.
  2. La Hacienda: This private facility is nestled on a gorgeous site just outside of Austin. People who enroll will be close to home, but when they look out their windows, they may only see green fields, running streams, and blossoming trees. It is a lovely and serene spot for healing. People come here due to addictions to alcohol or drugs, and most have underlying mental health conditions, too. A fulltime physician assesses each person every day, and a fulltime psychiatrist guides and provides care. That means people can get help with the physical damage addiction can cause, but they can also get help with the mental chaos an addiction leaves behind. Evidence-based therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are provided. Didactic therapy, a ROPES course, and 12-Step meetings enhance the learning. Payments from insurance companies are accepted. Call 800-749-6160 to find out more.
  3. Phoenix House Academy in Austin: Phoenix House provides a number of different treatment facilities throughout the United States. Each targets a slightly different member of the addiction community. In Austin, the focus is on adolescents. The campus here, situated in south central Austin, offers residential care for males ages 13-17. The boys are provided with intensive addiction care, including case management, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and trauma therapy. They are also provided with aftercare assistance and referrals to care at discharge. The boys have access to yoga, meditation, music sessions, and workout opportunities. Private insurance and self-pay are accepted, as are Medicaid, CHIP, Northstar, and Department of State and Human Services payments. Call 888-671-9392.
  4. Austin Lakes Hospital: This facility may sound like a traditional community hospital that provides emergency care for physical problems. In reality, it is a little different. This facility is devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric problems, including addiction. Services are available for anyone 18 and older who needs assistance. People in crisis can enroll in the inpatient program, so they can obtain immediate assessment and medication stabilization. Those with mental health issues and addiction might choose the acute dual diagnosis program for help. There are also partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs to choose from. Most major insurance companies provide payments for care at this facility. Call 512-544-5253 to find out more.
  5. Addiction and Psychotherapy Services: This private clinic has been serving the Austin area since 1982. The client base is addicted to opiates, such as heroin or painkillers, and these clients need the help of medications in order to quell cravings and leave addictions behind. The organization provides methadone and buprenorphine, supplemented by therapy, pain management, and acupuncture. It is the only facility in the area that offers this mix of services. The facility has a fulltime psychiatrist on staff, and all other workers are nurses or hold master’s degrees. Insurance plans are not accepted, and clients are expected to bring cash or money orders with them to their appointments. Call 512-444-5092 to find out more.
  6. The Right Step: This organization has more than 20 rehab centers in Texas alone. All of them provide comprehensive drug and alcohol rehab services. They can offer inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient rehab, and outpatient rehab. There are specialized programs for people in the LGBTQ community, and adolescents can get treatment for their specialized forms of addiction. People who enroll can expect to spend the majority of the day in counseling and on classwork related to addiction, but people are also encouraged to spend time in fun and fulfilling recreational activities, including fitness workouts and cultural events. Major insurance programs are accepted, and the group provides a free insurance benefits check. Call 844-817-0973 to find out more.
  7. Maintenance and Recovery Services: This organization strives to provide affordable methadone and Suboxone therapies in an environment that is warm, caring, and supportive. People who enroll are provided with medications on an appropriate dosing schedule, and they are asked to participate in programming that can help them to stay sober. Individual, family, couples, and group counseling are all available, as are relapse prevention courses, support groups, and acupuncture sessions. People who struggle to pay for care can sign up for financial assistance programs. Call the North Austin clinic at 512-339-9757 or the South Austin clinic at 512-899-2100.
  8. Northwest Counseling and Wellness Center: Dug and alcohol addictions can, at times, spark mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. People with addictions complicated by these mental illnesses can get help at the Northwest Counseling and Wellness Center. The facility offers outpatient care, and classes are held both during the day and in the evenings. That makes treatment easy to fit into almost any schedule. Most treatment programs for substance abuse last five weeks, but the team also offers aftercare services that can lengthen treatment time and provide better recovery odds. Integrative therapies offered include acupuncture, yoga, meditation, qi gong, and massage. Most large insurance company payments are accepted, and the team is willing to work with new companies, too. Call 512-250-9355 to find out more.
  9. Anchor West: Short stays in addiction care often result in quick relapses. The founders of Anchor West understand that fact, and they have designed a program that can help. People with drug and alcohol addictions can enroll in a 90-day inpatient treatment program, in which they receive in-depth addiction care, including group counseling, individual counseling, and medical monitoring. Men and women receive slightly different programming, so they can learn to cope with cultural pressures caused by gender. There is a family module that is designed to help families impacted by another person’s addiction. After inpatient care, people can take advantage of a 12-month aftercare program, in which they maintain contact with the therapy team and support groups. The facility also offers a recovery mentor program, so people new to sobriety can learn how others have dealt with similar problems. Anchor West works with many insurance companies, and intake staff can verify benefits on enrollment. To find out more, call 844-413-2680.
  10. Changes Counseling Services: A typical outpatient program for addiction provides care for just an hour or two each week. Changes Counseling Services thinks that is not adequate. That is why people who enroll in Changes are given more than 10 hours of care each week for addiction. The intensive outpatient program at Changes has been associated with a much higher rate of recovery. Teams at Changes perform an assessment before the treatment program begins, so they can determine the extent of the addiction and come up with an appropriate recovery path. Then, people work with a counselor in individual, one-on-one meetings to address prior trauma. They attend substance abuse education classes to learn more about sobriety skills. Changes is marketed as an affordable alternative to other addiction care programs, and fees are offered on a sliding scale. Insurance payments are accepted, too. To find out more, call 512-257-0066.
  11. Hill Country Counseling: This organization identifies itself as a community mental health center. It is designed to assist with all sorts of mental health concerns, including addictions. Most clients are referred to the facility by a doctor or another medical professional, and once they have a referral, they meet with Hill Country teams for an assessment. It is here that addictions, mental illnesses, and other conflicts come to light. With a diagnosis in hand, teams can determine the best treatment approach. People may benefit from partial hospitalization, outpatient therapy, individual therapy, or group therapy. Anyone from children to seniors is welcome to apply. Medicare, Medicaid, and some private insurance companies have contracts with this organization. Call 512-491-8444 to find out more.
  12. Austin Drug and Alcohol Abuse Program (ADAAP): This private, family-owned rehab facility provides treatment for drug dependency, and has done so since 1991. That makes ADAAP one of the oldest addiction treatment centers in Austin. There are two treatment paths to choose from. One, the intensive outpatient program, is designed for people who want to continue to live at home while they work on an addiction problem. It is considered the basic form of rehab. The other, relapse outpatient drug treatment, is made for people who have a history of relapsing to drugs after a period of sobriety. This program is made to help people see and fight their relapse triggers. Counselors can help people to understand which program is right for them. Payments are offered on a sliding scale, and insurance payments are accepted. Call 512-454-8180 to find out more.
  13. Clean Investments, Inc.: Addictions do not just impact adults. They can also reach children and young adults. When these young people need help with addiction, they can get it at Clean Investments, Inc. The mission of this organization is to provide quality addiction care in a safe and sober environment. To enroll, young people must have a diagnosis of addiction, with or without a mental illness, and they must be able to behave appropriately in a coed environment. There are intensive outpatient meetings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, with aftercare meetings on Thursdays and Saturdays. Spanish meetings are available. Payment plans are available, as are scholarships. Call 512-477-6690 to find out more.
  14. The Council on Recovery: This private organization has several addiction treatment facilities in Texas, but the founders of the organization know that the treatments that might be right for some might be wrong for others. That’s why the organization uses an in-depth assessment tool. Families that reach out for help are directed to the right program, even if it is not owned by The Council on Recovery. The Council is nonprofit, and it claims to provide care at a rate that is lower than the rate used by a for-profit agency. There are a variety of treatment modalities available, including medical detox, residential treatment, long-term residential treatment, intensive outpatient care, and outpatient care. There are specialized programs for women, children, and older adults. Insurance payments are accepted. Call 512-697-8600 for admissions in Austin.
  15. Memorial Herman Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC): This organization offers an intensive outpatient rehab program for drug addiction in Austin. People who enroll participate in 24 counseling sessions that stretch over a five-week period. Each week, they devote 10-15 hours to learning more about how addictions work and how they can be conquered. Those sessions can be scheduled around work, school, and hobbies. Once the counseling is complete, people can tap into relapse prevention programs for up to one year. Insurance payments are accepted. Call 1-877-464-7272 to find out more.
  16. Palmer Drug Abuse Program: This program got its start due to the hard work and passions of a rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston. This rector saw how drug abuse ravaged his community, and he started holding meetings that followed a 12-Step format, much like Alcoholics Anonymous. In time, the size of those meetings grew, and the organization altered the traditional 12 Steps to meet the needs of the community. Now, the group is completely nondenominational, and any teen or young adult with a drug problem is welcome to attend meetings. There is no charge for attendance. This is a support group, not a treatment facility, so there is no therapy on offer. But some people find that they can achieve and maintain sobriety through regular attendance at these meetings. Call 512-927-0422 to find out about the Austin program.
  17. Nova Recovery: This organization is known for providing luxury inpatient rehab options. In Austin, the organization does something a little different. Here, they provide outpatient drug addiction therapy. Some people use these services after they have completed a Nova program elsewhere, and others use this outpatient program as the one and only step they need to complete in order to get and stay sober. People participate in group counseling sessions, and peer recovery support services are available to maximize the recovery process. People who need extra help can also access sober living communities through Nova. Care is affordable, and insurance payments are accepted. Call 877-451-9195 to find out more.
  18. Better Hope Treatment Recovery: Addictions can decimate a person’s health, happiness, and family connection. Better Hope Treatment Recovery hopes to undo the damage and make sobriety a reality. Interested parties can start the healing by contracting with an interventionist through Better Hope. That person can guide a meaningful conversation that can lead to enrollment in treatment. Then, people can access medical detox in order to get sober. They can enroll in a luxurious and private rehab center in order to learn how to maintain that sobriety. This is a private organization that is focused on recovery, and insurance payments are accepted. Call 512-872-3008 to find out more.
  19. Texas Christian Rehab: For people who put God at the center of all things, it makes sense to utilize a treatment program that does the same. Texas Christian Drug Rehab is designed to do just that. People who enroll in this private drug addiction program utilize conventional recovery tools, including therapy and support group work, but each solution offered has a uniquely Christian bent. God is included in almost all discussions, and everyone who participates is a believer. For some, this could be a remarkable solution. Insurance payments are accepted, and assessment starts the healing. Call 512-309-7429 to find out more.
  20. Infinite Recovery: Addiction treatment that marries clinical excellence with deep compassion is the focus of Infinite Recovery. The founders felt that some treatment programs cause stigma and blame for people with addictions, and they wanted to hold people accountable for their disease without causing them to lose hope in their ability to solve problems. At Infinite Recovery, people move into small, intimate treatment settings where they live with 9-10 other people. They go through individual and group therapy, and they take advantage of 12-Step programs. They marry these techniques with alternate therapies, including yoga and spiritual retreats. Outpatient care and sober living facilities are also available. Insurance payments are accepted. Call 844-206-9063 to find out more.

Citations

[1]Austin Ranked Second Safest Major City in the U.S.” (October 2013). KVUE-ABC. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[2]Anything for a Clean Slate.” (April 2012). The Austin Cut. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[3]Among Fastest-Growing Cities, Austin’s Decline in African-American Population is Unique.” (May 2014). Planetizen. Accessed September 14, 2015.

[4]What Nobody Says About Austin.” (February 2013). Texas Monthly. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[5]Texas Population, 2005.” (n.d.) Texas Department of State Health Services. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[6]Initial Process and Outcome Evaluation of Drug Courts in Texas.” (January 2003). Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[7]Officials Trying to Save Drug Court.” (September 2012). Statesman. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[8]Austin’s Violent Crimes Rate Third-Lowest in the U.S.” (November 2012). Statesman. Accessed September 13, 2015.

[9]Rick Perry Says Changes in Drug Laws Led to Lowest Texas Crime Rate Since 1968.” (February 2015). PolitiFact. Accessed September 14, 2015.