Off Beat: Trip to drug court gives new perspective on addiction

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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The Brandenburgs’ story of sharing covers a lot of familiar holiday elements.

It’s a time for turkey dinners and gift-giving. It’s a time of over-indulgence, as well as life-improvement resolutions.

But unlike most stories that reflect a seasonal glow, this one started in drug court.

Letha Brandenburg runs the Healthy Weigh weight-loss clinic. Attorney Barry Brandenburg represents defendants in Clark County’s drug court. The couple realized their jobs aren’t so different; they just reflect their clients’ different coping measures.

“Depending on our lifestyle or past experiences, we’ve all chosen a different coping skill,” Letha Brandenburg said. “Drugs or alcohol or food or shopping or working.

“We have had many conversations about the similarities with what he does with his clients and what I do at Healthy Weigh,” she said. “For years, I joked about a field trip to drug court” for her clients. It happened in November.

“I wanted them to see another level of addiction. It was a powerful experience,” Letha Brandenburg said. “They were pretty moved by it.”

“We often have groups come through,” said Brad Finegood, therapeutic specialty courts coordinator for Clark County Superior Court.

The Healthy Weigh folks saw drug court “as a place to gain some perspective on people dealing with other kinds of addictive issues,” Finegood said.

“We’re dealing with an addiction of when and what to eat,” Letha Brandenburg said. “That’s easier than what they’re dealing with” in drug court.

Giving back

After seeing the commitment required to earn a one-year clean-and-sober token, “Our clients wanted to support these people,” she said.

So they contributed money for Thanksgiving dinners at three Oxford Houses.

“It’s peer-run transitional housing, for people going through recovery in a clean and sober safe place,” Finegood explained. “We try to get them rehabilitated in the community, rather than through criminal justice options.”

For Brandenburg’s clients, donating those dinners was a generous gesture that might help their own transformations.

“One thing about recovery: It’s about giving back, helping other people,” Finegood said.

Brandenburg also picked up some ideas for her clients at drug court.

“People weigh in front of the group now. It’s about accountability, just like in court.”

Drug court graduates formed an alumni group to help people in the program. She likes that idea for her successful clients.

“They’ve met their goal, but still want to be part of something,” Brandenburg said.

She will continue to take clients to drug court: “We’re seeing how important it is to go.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.