LONOKE, Ark — A first of its kind program in Lonoke County aimed at battling the drug epidemic is proving successful. The PACT project, which officially began in April, pairs inmates battling drug addiction with someone who once walked their path.

Inside the Lonoke County Detention Facility, you’ll find more than just inmates serving time. Instead, they are learning how to better their lives when they get out.

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Casey Copeland knows that life well. The 37-year-old battled drug addiction for several years before he eventually went to prison.

“Losing my freedom was what made me say, ‘OK, it’s time to do something different,” Copeland said.

Today, he is using his past to help others. In April, Copeland became the state's first Peer Recovery Support Specialist as part of the PACT project. PACT, or the Peers Achieving Collaborative Treatment project, is a grant funded program that matches people in recovery, like Copeland, with inmates who are battling drug addiction.

“In addition to teaching about recovery I also try to teach them about life. Anger management. We build resumes. Mock interviews. Things that are going to get them ahead when they get back,” Copeland said. “It’s definitely not a power role. It’s not do this or else. It’s this is what I’ve done to get to this place in my life.” 

Lt. Matthew Edwards with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office said the department has experimented with other programs in the past, but this one is working and it’s all because of experience.

“With this program we have an actual peer that's been there. That has done the things that these individuals have done and have overcome,” Lt. Edwards said.

While the PACT Project is just a pilot program right now, Copeland hopes to see it continue to change the lives of young men and women behind bars.

“I’m trying to show them there is a different way and that they don't ever have to come back,” Copeland said.

Currently the PACT project is only in Lonoke County, but there are plans to start one in Pulaski County.

Funding for the project comes from part of a $10-million federal grant that Arkansas received to improve addiction prevention and treatment services.