Kentucky judge changes approach to drug court students after woman's overdose death

PARIS, Ky. (WKYT) - A Kentucky judge is taking a new approach to those who enter drug court after realizing the old method wasn't leading to recovery.

Photo: WKYT

Circuit Court Judge Brian Privett has made his way up the ranks. Just a few years ago, he was a prosecutor for Bourbon County's drug court -- a program to keep people with substance use disorders on the right track.

Privett thought at the time he was doing the right thing, by putting those that fail drug tests back in jail.

Ashley McDaniel was one of the first to graduate from Privett's drug court with her best friend. Ashley admits she cheated her way through drug court by using drugs at times she knew she wasn't going to get tested.

"I didn't know how to deal with the feelings I had without these drugs because that was my coping mechanism. Getting high fixed everything for me," McDaniel said.

So as soon as Ashley and her best friend graduated, Jessica headed to Cincinnati, overdosed and died.

"When she passed away, that was the point where I hit rock bottom," she recalled.

And when Judge Privett found out about the woman's death, he hit rock bottom too.

"It just bothered me, I had taken this person's life and done something that could harm them," Privett realized. "Recognizing that everyone is given grace, we have to learn to forgive after people are held accountable. That's the balance in recovery in court is you take care of people and you hold them accountable, but you always care about them. That's where the faith comes in."

That's probably why the video taken during a church rally has received more than 80,000 views and 2.1 thousand shares. That law and order judge found a different balance.

Ashley said, "In all honesty, he played a role in saving my life."

Ashley has been sober now for two years.

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