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Judges, Chamber officials offer lessons on drug abuse

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County judges and Chamber of Commerce employees educated local business owners Wednesday on how to deal with employees with alcohol and drug problems.

Through a statewide program called Drugs Don't Work, both large and small business owners are assisted in achieving drug-free certification for their business.

The program leads to a certification by the State Board of Workers' Compensation, giving businesses with a drug-free workplace a 7.5 percent discount on their workers' compensation premiums.

Program Coordinator for the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce Jo Anne M. Wymer said each business is responsible for assigning a program administrator who must go through four hours of training to become certified and receive the worker's compensation discount. Employees of the business must complete two hours of training annually.

Although it is not a requirement to become a member to become a certified workplace, Wymer said, those who become members of the chamber can receive a discount on the Drugs Don't Work training.

She said a $50 fee for chamber members is required per year to participate in the insurance reducing classes or $125 for nonmembers.

Drug education topics concerning alcohol, DUI and other drug abuses are discussed in the classes.

County judges William M. Ray II and Joseph C. Iannazzone spoke at Wednesday's training session.

Ray spoke of his involvement with the Drug Court, established in October 2004 to provide treatment for those charged with offenses involving possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, "hard" drugs such as cocaine, "scheduled" drugs like opiates and amphetamines or obtaining drugs through fraud.

Ray said the court is in place to reduce the chance of a repeat offense and to help offenders recover from addiction.

He said the program is an option for the person charged to enter a guilty plea and for the judge to defer sentencing. After successfully completing the Drug Court program, the judge can clear the plea and request the District Attorney dismiss the case.

The repeat for drug offenders, Ray said, is 60 percent, but for those who have gone through the drug court treatment program the rate of repeating an offense drops to less than 15 percent.

"We often see repeat offenders," Ray said. "If they don't receive help it just keeps on going and going."

Those participating in the program must pay a fee of $165 per month. Ray said treatment lasts a minimum of 18 months and a maximum of 24 months which is determined by the Drug Court.

Iannazzone, who conducts the Gwinnett County DUI Court which began in October 2005, said similar procedures and treatments are available for those charged with DUI.

"The average person in a DUI treatment group has driven under the influence about 100 times has only been caught once or twice," Iannazzone said. "I did have one person in court who has 22 DUI's."

He said those who come through the court typically have two to three DUI charges.

Each individual involved in the program goes through treatment for a minimum of 12 months, receiving treatment from mental health professionals and participating in weekly drug tests.

Iannazzone said the program costs $200 a month, but has a high success rate and said most of the members graduate from the program.

"We don't want to give up on these people," he said. "So we try to get them help through this program. And it's rewarding for (the members) even though it's a lot of work."

Both Ray and Iannazzone agree the court programs work and have succeeded in reducing the amount of drug associated crime.

Norcross owner of Acme Cleaning Company Joseph McKnignt who attended Wednesday's training said he hopes his involvement in the Drugs Don't Work program will help him catch possible abuse among his employees and get them help.

"Catching and preventing abuse early and doing something will also give our clients a better piece of mind," he said.

For more information about the county's drug court, visit www.qwinnettaoc.com/drugcourt or www.gwinnettaoc.com/duicourt for information about DUI Court and click on AOC.

For information on Drugs Don't Work certification, contact Wymer at 770-232-8812

or visit www.gwinnettchamber.org.