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      First Georgetown drug court graduating class faces sobriety in community

      The first four people graduated from Georgetown County drug court Tuesday afternoon. They join the 110 people who have graduated from Horry County drug court.

      Drug court is a rehabilitation program of sorts. The program is an alternative to serving jail time for drug sentences. Typically, the offenders would serve as many as 12 years, but instead they serve a year to 18 months.

      "They typically have a long criminal record. This is not someone who's just fiddling around smoking a little pot," said Horry County Solicitor Greg Hembree.

      One of the youngest to complete the program Tuesday was Sean Riley, 20, who had five counts on his rap sheet before drug court.

      "This is fairly low compared to other graduates. For example, in Horry County we currently have 110 graduates; those graduates average 20 arrests prior to entering drug court, with some as high as 40," said Candy DeBusk, Drug Court Director.

      Riley describes receiving his certificate as a release. "We had to {go to} three to four NA or AA meetings. We had to pay a fee every week. We had to attend treatment twice a week and see a judge. We had to go on a prison tour. We had to go to a change class."

      "Drug court is about making people face the consequences of their actions. Facing those consequences doesn't have to mean sitting in prison and consuming state resources. We try to address the problem that got them in trouble with the criminal justice system to begin with while still requiring them to live up to their responsibilities as a citizen," DeBusk says.

      To complete drug court, the focus becomes beating drug or alcohol addiction. 40 to 80 percent of participants have dropped out before completing the program. Once they complete the program, whatever charge landed them in drug court is dismissed from their record. Hembree says 80 percent of the cases his office handles are drug or alcohol related.

      "When you're talking about burglaries, most of the time, it's drug and alcohol issues related, most assaults, drug and alcohol issues related. Most of the drug charges themselves are directly drug related," he adds.

      The program is paid through client fees from the people taking the class and from drug money seized by the state in drug cases.

      The goal in fighting the addiction behind the arrests is that the program in the long run will equal fewer prisoners and save taxpayer dollars.