Rock star praises Drug Court's work

Phish frontman Anastasio tells teens program 'is a gift'

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

The kids in Clark County Juvenile Recovery Court don't have the fame of rock stars. But on Wednesday, they found out they have something in common with rock star Trey Anastasio.

The 48-year-old vocalist and guitarist in the rock band Phish stopped by the Juvenile Drug Court in downtown Vancouver and spoke to a group of about 75 people, many of them juvenile drug offenders. Then, he headed to Portland to perform with Natalie Cressman Wednesday at a sold-out show at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom.

"On your worst day, try to remember this is a gift," Anastasio said of Drug Court. "Drug Court is the single best thing that ever happened to me, to my wife, to my kids, to my mom."

An opiate addiction nearly destroyed Anastasio's life. His band had broken up. His family was estranged from him.

"I had sores all over my body," he said.

He was arrested in 2006 while driving in upstate New York and charged with multiple felonies related to his drug use. He was given a choice: spend a year in jail or go through Drug Court.

He chose Drug Court, a program that focuses on rehabilitation rather than incarceration, though incarceration is used as a strong disincentive for relapse. The program also is offered to both juveniles and adults in Clark County.

"At first, I thought it was the worst thing that happened to me. … I'm not going to say it was a barrel of roses," he said.

A judge threw him in jail for two days for being 10 minutes late for an appointment.

"I know what you're going through right now," Anastasio said.

He's been sober for six years, he said.

The first year, he still grappled with anger over being in Drug Court. His family had to move to upstate New York so he could attend regular meetings. In the second year, he realized that Drug Court had saved his life, he said.

Sobriety freed him to enjoy his life and stop hiding from family members and friends, he said.

"I almost forgot what it felt like to feel good," he said.

He told the teenagers in recovery court that they are lucky.

"The fact that this happened to you so young could be the greatest gift that ever happened to you," he said. "Do you

want to be sitting here when you're 50, all your friends looking at you? It's embarrassing."

Or worse, the teenagers could end up in prison, as some of Anastasio's fellow Drug Court participants did.

One friend had almost graduated from Drug Court when he took a joy ride on a motorcycle without license plates and led police on a chase before surrendering. He knew riding the motorcycle was against the rules, but instead of waiting just two weeks until graduation, he drove it anyway. Then, he made the situation worse by not stopping for police. Now, he's in state prison, Anastasio said.

"He couldn't accept success," he said. "It was all in his mind."

Brad Finegood, coordinator of the recovery court, said he met Anastasio at a National Drug Court Association event and had been trying to get him to speak to juveniles in recovery court for two years. When Finegood saw that Anastasio was performing in Portland, he reached out to him again.

Anastasio is also a Broadway composer. He most recently helped write the music for "Hands on a Hardbody," which had its final performance Saturday.

Rolling Stone has named him one of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."

Anastasio said Drug Court and recovery are "50 times more important to me than any of (that) stuff."