La Crosse County's Drug Treatment Court offers a path to recovery and stability and helps keep participants out of jail.
Casey Hartung has turned his life around, but he got some help along the way.
“Without drug court I wouldn’t be sober that’s for sure, I’d definitely be in prison,” he said recently.
Hartung (pictured above right) now has a successful career with a local painting company, a home of his own and a steady relationship. Wind the clock back a few years and things were very different.
“I came home after being discharged from the military and didn’t really care about anything,” he said. “I got in with the wrong crowd and got into meth and used it for seven years, on and off.”
Hartung went to jail seven times until he was eventually approved to enter the La Crosse County Drug Treatment Court. Drug Treatment Courts are designed for people with substance use disorders. Instead of incarceration, they offer an opportunity to enter a long-term treatment and court supervision program. It’s not an easy ride. Participants must undergo several drug tests a week, participate in treatment, and make regular court appearances where a judge checks in on their progress.
“If you have a failure, they want you to be honest about it, and if you mess up, you get community service or sit a few days in jail,” Hartung says. “It’s really not easy to take advantage of.”
Like many participants, Hartung hit a few bumps in the road on his drug court journey, but he stuck with the program. Hartung’s family told him drug court was his last chance.
“Drug court gave me stability and the push that I needed to get sober,” Hartung said. “It taught me how to respect myself.”
The experience was very different from sitting in jail, Hartung added. Inside, he made more connections with people involved in drugs and crime and never addressed the underlying issues that had gotten him into trouble. Hartung, who is now 21 months sober, is building a new life, and says his loved ones have never been prouder of him.
“I just want to be happy,” he said. “I have a great relationship and I just want a family and to do the right thing.”
La Crosse County operates both drug and OWI (operating while intoxicated) treatment courts that each year keep dozens of people out of jail. Instead, participants are put on a path to recovery, provided they follow the rigorous program.
Like Hartung, Terry Muns (pictured above left) credits La Crosse County’s drug court with changing his life for the better. Muns, who is originally from Vernon County, started using drugs when he was 14 but managed to avoid getting into trouble for many years. Eventually, he did get arrested and spent nine months in prison.
“I pretty much lost my entire life, and then when I got out I went back even harder, went on the streets, was selling drugs,” he recalled.
Muns ended up in drug court but said at first, he didn’t want to be there. Two weeks into the program, he used, and got into trouble. But he said the incident was a blessing in disguise. It reminded him that he didn’t want his old life back.
Muns moved into a sober living facility and started to get more comfortable with drug court and the structure it gave his life. He’s now two years sober and works full-time for a moving company, and as a live-in manager for Driftless Recovery Services, helping people like himself. Watching people in recovery succeed gives Muns great joy.
“I used to be a very negative person and I felt like my life was in a shambles and there was no coming back,” Muns said. “Today I’m 100% positivity.” He’s focused on building a secure future and is saving to buy a home in the La Crosse area.
“I’ve got my credit score now up over 750, I got all my debt paid off and I have a good chunk of money in the bank,” Muns said.
He encourages other people with substance use disorders who may find themselves in the same kind of situation he once experienced, to see drug court as a great option.
“Drug court is tough, but it’s a fraction as hard as it is out on the streets,” he said. “You may not realize that initially, because that’s what your brain wants you to do, but once it becomes a routine you will.”
The La Crosse County Drug Treatment Court has been in operation since 2002, while the county’s OWI Court started in 2006. Hundreds of participants have graduated from the two treatment courts and built successful, productive lives.
Treatment courts also produce public savings of $6,208 per participant, returning up to $27 for every $1 invested, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP). The savings come by reducing recidivism and other negative outcomes. The key to treatment courts, the NADCP notes, is that they view addiction as a disease, not a moral failing.
“Today, I’m a whole different person,” Muns said. “Drug court is a big part of that.”