Fahrman Center gives high-risk offenders an opportunity

Story by David Heiling, Editor in Chief

“We give all our patients a coffee mug with their name on it when they get here,” said Daren Dregney, counselor at the Eau Claire Fahrman Center. “Some leave with their mug, some leave it behind. This one here is from a woman who passed away because of her addiction.”
The mug is inscribed with four small letters that reads: “Lisa.” Dregney holds it in his hands and looks it over before gently putting it back on top of his desk.
“That was a sad one,” he said.
The Fahrman Center, located on Craig Road in Eau Claire is a court-appointed drug and alcohol counseling center. It can hold 43 patients at a time, and the waiting line to be admitted into the Fahrman Center is quite long, Dregney said.
The center serves as a counseling treatment program for substance addiction while giving its patients a safe place to live for an intermediate amount of time. Dregney said there have been patients who have stayed for a year.
There are certain checkpoints, Dregney said, in which the counselor evaluates the patient’s progress and recommends consequences. Recommendation to leave the facility for a short time, extended visiting hours along with additional time for work are all common positive consequences, he said.
Dregney said the attitude of the patient goes a long way in determining whether or not they will benefit from the program.
Cassie Spickler is battling an opiate-based drug addiction. She is currently residing in the Fahrman Center for the second time. The Eau Claire drug court ordered Spickler to the facility the first week of November.
“I look to this as an opportunity, not a punishment,” she said. “It’s very beneficial if you want it. You can have the mindset of just getting through treatment or you can take it head on and take what you learn and apply it to your life.”
Counseling sessions occur daily and can be one-on-one or group format. Spickler said she likes group sessions better because of the amount of feedback she receives.
“In the group sessions, you can hear advice and stories from a bunch of different people with different backgrounds,” she said. “For me, that’s nice to hear how other people are handling their addictions.”
Circuit Court Judge Michael Schumacher said he recommends serious offenders with a high risk of reoffending to places such as the Fahrman Center
He said offenders with any substance addiction from alcohol to prescription drugs to heroine can be recommended for the center. Addictions to huffing is not considered, as it is not testable, he said.
Schumacher also said counseling programs such as the Fahrman Center is an alternative to prison and are effective.
“Data for treatment courts nationally as well as here in Eau Claire prove with very little doubt that drug court treatment options are effective,” Schumacher said.
The main goal of the Fahrman Center is not to strictly dry out and sober up, Schumaker said. The benefits of an offender going to treatment can be greater than strictly staying clean for an amount of time.
“It’s treatment, and its evidence-based treatment which basically means we use sophisticated research to tell us which types of treatment works,” he said. “We use that treatment to address their addiction, and control their addiction, so that in turn they may remain sober.”
Schumacher said he keeps tabs on the offenders he puts into drug court-appointed centers such as the Fahrman Center. The drug treatment facilities help some, but not all. Schumaker said he has found evidence of bad endings, not unlike Lisa’s, and good endings.
“On one extreme, we’ve had graduates of our treatment programs relapse and unfortunately die of the result of overdose,” he said. “On the other extreme just recently, we had a young man who was horribly addicted to alcohol. Had five children in Ohio, living with their mother, he got into drug court.”
“And after over two years in drug court determined he was going to do everything he could to get his children back, he graduated from drug court and all five of his children were returned to his custody.”