Washoe County's Family Drug Court Gets High Rating

Washoe County's first-in-the-nation family drug court is rated as one of the best in the nation, according to a national study.

In a sample of 84 parents who participated in the county family drug court between 2001 and 2004, 91 percent were reunited with their children, according to the report by Scott Burrus, a psychologist with NTC Research of Portland, Ore.

Burrus, who has been studying substance abuse for 14 years, described that percentage as "huge, whopping and astonishing."

It compares with a 45 percent rate of a sampling of 127 Washoe parents arrested on drug charges who did not go through the vigorous 15-month program.

In the four other top-rated counties studied, San Diego's drug court reunited 56 percent of its parents with their children; Santa Clara, Calif., 76 percent, and Suffolk County, N.Y., 57 percent.

The four were chosen as among the best courts, representing four
variations on how drug courts are run.

Burrus said $4 million for the four-year study was funded by the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

While parents pay a portion of their treatment costs, Burrus said the subsidized cost of drug court is more than offset by children spending less time in foster care.

In Washoe, children of the 84 parents spent 199 days in foster care versus 336 days for the sampling of parents who didn't go through drug court.

"We know it makes a difference. We know the model works," Burris said.

"By reducing time in foster care, you are saving millions of dollars."

Retired judge Charles McGee started the nation's first family court drug program in Washoe County in 1994.

Buffy Dreiling, a juvenile court master, has overseen the family drug court since May.

Each year, about 50 parents go through the program.

Parents must appear before Dreiling every two weeks and face regular testing for drugs.

At the same time, Social Services workers, drug counselors, mentors and others face the judge.

Dreiling said the program works by "holding everyone accountable every two weeks.

If any issues arise, we fix it right then."

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno and a drug courts administrator, said 70 percent of the children placed into county custody because of neglect or abuse have parents abusing methamphetamine.