Former addicts are starting new lives as graduates of Monmouth County's Drug Court program.

(Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media)
Monmouth County Drug Court Graduate Nichole Demeter speaks during the program's recent graduation ceremony.

Twenty-six individuals took the stage at the Manalapan branch of the Monmouth County Library Monday to get a certificate of completion as a packed house of family, friends, and past and present Drug Court participants cheered on.

The Drug Court program is conducted in counties throughout the state and administered by the courts. In Monmouth, the program has had 18 graduations, totaling 304 people.

The program allows non-violent drug offenders to enter an extensive, multi-year rehabilitation program in lieu of jail time. For many, it's the last chance to get their lives back in order.

"I came from a dark place, but I had my dirty windows cleaned and I can see through them, and I can see a clear vision of my future," said graduate Nichole Demeter, who credits the program with allowing her to be a good mother to her young daughter.

The multi-tiered program involves regular visits with parole officers as well as visits to substance abuse counselors and group meetings. Participants must also obtain jobs, establish a network of trustworthy people, and demonstrate a commitment to recovery.

"These folks are no longer tax burdens, they are taxpayers, they are citizens, and they have a sense of purpose," said Adry Leib, Drug Court coordinator.

Leib pointed out only 1.8 percent of drug court graduates have faced conviction after completing the program.

With a heroin epidemic currently embattling Ocean and Monmouth counties, the graduates warn young people facing addiction of the dangerous path they face.

"I would say get help immediately, don't be afraid to admit that you have a problem," Demeter said. "There's somebody next to you that has some kind of problem, whether it's the same as you or a different one, just don't be afraid to say 'I need help.'"