Calling it a successful tool, the nation's top drug cop promised to spread the word about Kane County's drug rehabilitation court program.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Director Asa Hutchinson Wednesday got a first hand look at Judge James Doyle's drug court program.
"Judge Doyle's courtroom is certainly a national model I'd like to see duplicated both in Illinois and elsewhere in the country," Hutchinson said.
Doyle started drug court nearly two years ago after one of the repeat offenders in his courtroom died from a heroin overdose. The program combines treatment for drug addictions with enforcement, which includes drug testing three times a week and weekly visits with Doyle.
"People have to understand that we have to have treatment with enforcement - it works," said Doyle, who is not shy about sending drug court participants to the county jail if they fail a drug test.
"You have to underline the importance of accountability in a drug court program," he said. "The threat of incarceration is what makes it work ... you can't eliminate that accountability and still have a successful program."
He described Kane County's drug court as a "model" program that helps in the fight against drugs.
"I think it's programs like this that send a different signal," he said. "And for that reason I'll be telling this story across the country."
That was welcome news to some of the 300 recovering addicts who have sung Doyle's praises for changing their lives.
"I think it's definitely a positive program," said Mark Klonowski, an 18-year-old recovering ecstasy addict from Geneva. "I think it would be a strength to the nation and it would help with the drug problem."
Klonowski first stepped into Doyle's drug court last December. And while he had a relapse, he has been drug-free since February. This fall, he plans to go to college as a pre-med major.
"We tried everything with him," Klonowski's mother, Lisa, said. "This is what it took to turn him around."
Klonowski's experience is similar to many others in Doyle's program. Of the 300 participants, only one could not stop using and was sentenced to the state's prison system for the crimes he committed to get drugs.
"Hopefully they will take some of this and look at developing a national model for drug court," said Judy Kreamer, president of Educating Voices, a Naperville not-for-profit group fighting to stamp out illegal drug use.
While Hutchinson has visited other drug court programs, he noted that Kane County's program is unique in that it heavily involves faith-based groups - such as a Christian-based recovery group - and it requires participants be in drug court for a minimum of two years.
Though Hutchinson could not promise federal funding for the program, Doyle is working with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to get some. Hastert and county officials will continue discussions this fall, said Hastert spokesman Brad Hahn.
Despite the praises for Doyle's program, Hutchinson's visit drew some protestors who want to see marijuana and other illegal drugs legalized. "Although drug abuse is bad, the drug war is worse," said Ceran Thomas, director of Windy City Hemp.
Her group backs the legalization of marijuana, especially for medicinal purposes. Thomas also supports legalizing other drugs, such as heroin.
She argued that legalizing drugs would reduce drug use and related crimes.
Hutchinson rebuffed critics, noting that studies have suggested that the risks associated with using marijuana outweigh the medicinal benefits. He added that all of the recovering addicts he spoke to in Doyle's courtroom started out by using marijuana before moving on to more addictive drugs.
"For people who say that marijuana is not a gateway drug, please come into a drug court program and talk to those who have been struggling with addictions," he said.