When Rhonda King was out of hope and dreams, with no beliefs, God helped her get her life back on track through the Mississippi Drug Court Program, she said.

King, of Scott County, graduated from the 8th Judicial District Drug Court on Dec. 7 along with 16 others including three from Neshoba County.

Before entering the Drug Court Program five years ago, she lost custody of her three children because of her addiction to prescription drugs.

The graduation, in the Scott County courthouse, was presided over by Judge Vernon Cotten, who has championed the program since its inception.

King, who was the keynote speaker, talked about her experiences through the five-year program, stopping several times to compose herself before breaking down in tears.

"I didn't know about living clean," she said. "I gave everything away because of drugs and I only had one sister who would speak to me."

She recalled how after two months of the program she ended up in jail proclaiming that Drug Court officials didn't know what she needed to overcome her addition.

"While in treatment, I realized I couldn't take it," she said. "I asked God for help and I felt something change. It has been the most incredible, extraordinary, painful and hard journey. It was a struggle."

As the program progressed, King began to turn her life around.

She was able to regain custody of her children and now works as a counselor and housemother at Weems Community Mental Health Center.

She recalled how she had questioned whether she was ready and able to take responsibility of her children.

She told those in attendance that despite everything she still has "thoughts of getting high" but she has maintained her "clean" status.

Marcus Ellis, the Drug Court coordinator, said that without God the graduates would not have been able to complete the program.

"They have become sober and productive members of society," he said.

Ellis went over what each level of Drug Court requires, including numerous court visits and drug tests.

He noted that by the time graduates enter the final phase, all that is required is a drug test, which is administered randomly.

After Ellis spoke, Judge Cotten talked about how graduation day should be a day of celebration.

"They are advancing through a five-year-program," he said, noting the graduates were leaving as non-convicted felons.

Cotten also announced that due to the success of the Drug Court Program, the Mississippi Legislature has passed a bill establishing Drug Courts statewide.

He also described Ellis as the "architect" of the program.

Cotten warned graduates to realize that now there will be no more officers showing up at home saying "here's your cup," in reference to giving a urine sample for a drug test.

"You will still have temptation," he said. "You will never be completely well."

To the family members of the graduates, Cotten encouraged them to pray, be wary, patient and supportive.

He also warned about the dangers of decriminalizing marijuana, as some states have done and others are trying to do, calling it a "gateway drug."

The Eighth Circuit Drug Court currently has 171 participants. It takes about five years to successfully complete the program.

Mississippi currently had 43 Drug Courts statewide with more than 3,000 people enrolled.

Drug Courts seek to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug treatment and intense supervision with drug testing and frequent court appearances.

Drug Courts offer the incentive of a chance to remain out of jail and be employed, and the sanction of a jail sentence if participants fail to remain drug-free and in compliance with all program requirements.