Group Offers Special Services
By SARA MITCHELL
For the Sunday News, El Dorado News Times
EL DORADO - South Arkansas Substance Abuse is offering innovative approaches to monitoring those with drug and alcohol problems, according to SASA Program Director Paul Meason. The non-profit organization began testing 24/7 sobriety monitoring programs in October 2008, the success rates have been phenomenal.
Results of the drug and alcohol are sent directly to the courts by a secure internet site. Meason said that several courts in the state have already elected to use the monitoring technology. The 24/7 monitoring programs are not funded by tax money, but instead are paid for by the offender. Many convicted jail inmates entered prison due to drug or alcohol-related problems, Meason said, adding that overcrowding in prison has become a problem.
The SCRAM bracelet (secure alcohol monitoring bracelet) was purchased by SASA from Alcohol Monitoring System (AMS). The bracelet operated by measuring the individual's sweat. To date, the bracelet is the only alcohol-monitoring device that can detect discrepancies between an actual drinking event and an external or environmental contamination, such as perfume, solvents, and other such objects that contain alcohol, according to Meason. The bracelet is worn 24 hours a day and seven days a week, Meason said, and is worn for as long as the court determines. "These do not cost the taxpayer anything," Meason said. The monitoring system is also available privately to families who may want to keep tabs on a relative with a substance abuse problem.
Some of the benefits of the SCRAM bracelet include continuous alcohol monitoring, increased offender accountability, scientifically-proven technology, court acceptance flexible, exception-based reporting, non-invasive automated testing, evidence-based assessment and detection improved outcomes, and cost effectiveness. White blood and breath tests only measure sobriety at a certain time, the SCRAM bracelet can test the offender's sweat frequently, which gives 24/7 coverage. The bracelet is placed on the ankle and has the capability of being read remotely.
"This puts the accountability on the offender," Meason said. "The success rate is very high because of the accountability and fear of incarceration."
SASA chose the SCRAM bracelet because of the high accuracy rating, Meason said. And the client who wears either the bracelet or the patch can go about their daily business, even wearing the devices at work.
SASA is also utilizing a drug sweat patch, which is worn by the offender for 24 hours a day for seven days. The patch is then securely expedited to an accredited lab to undergo GCMS (gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy). "This is the gold standard for drug testing," Meason said. The patch is securely placed on the offender, and if removed, it cannot be reapplied, Meason said. If the offender removed the patch without permission, it is considered a positive result. After the patch has been worn for a week, it is removed and securely sent to the lab for testing.
Another investment made by SASA for and alcohol monitoring is the purchase of several ALCO SENSOR FSTs, which are portable breathalyzers. These tests are administered widely by local, county, and state law enforcement, and are approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The portable breathalyzers are also approved to use as evidence in a court of law. The portable breathalyzers, which produce immediate results, are used at SASA. Brandon Speer, assistant director at SASA, said the SCRAMx devices will be available for use in November 2009.
Meason said SASA has invested time and expense in training personnel to administer bracelet set up, data download and monitoring, as well as the maintenance of each bracelet. SASA personnel have also been trained in drug patch applications and administering breathalyzers testing.
Results from SASA for the past year concerning the drug and alcohol monitoring devices have been impressive. Meason said that since the program has been implemented in October 2008, 177 bracelets have been worn for a total of 5,340 days. This has provided 256,320 monitored with performing alcohol tests, with only two confirmed drinking events.
The compliance ratio for the bracelets at SASA has been 99 percent. More than 10,000 twice daily breathalyzers have only had the outcome of three drinking events, which also results in 99 percent compliance. The drug sweat patches have also faired with 800 applications, resulting in nine patches testing for actual drug use. These effects resulted in 98.87 percent compliance. The numbers have shown that individuals participating in the 24/7 monitoring program did no continue to use drugs or alcohol. Also, active participants did not commit new crimes, which alleviates some overcrowding in jail.
The 24/7 sobriety program is mentored from one in South Dakota, which has been successful. In the four years the program has been implemented in South Dakota, the state has reduced DWI fatalities by 52 percent and has a recidivism rate of 37 percent on DWI/DUI offenders. A better than 97 percent compliance rates has been demonstrated in the program. Bill Mickleson, director of the 24/7 pilot program in South Dakota, made a presentation to SASA regarding the history and benefits of the program. Mickleson directed SASA employees on properly implementing the monitoring program.