National Drug Court Month, observed throughout May, may seem insignificant to those who don’t understand the critical role that drug courts play in our society. But drug courts symbolize an approach to addiction that has been quietly revolutionary.
What exactly do drug courts do?
In short, drug courts leverage the judicial system to keep people engaged in treatment long enough to be successful.
What this means to individuals and society at large is extraordinary. Drug courts have proven to be places of hope, helping people repair their lives, reconnect with their families and engage in long-term recovery. Tears of joy often take place within the walls of drug courts, as people graduate from programs and pivot to becoming productive citizens.
Far from being bureaucratic drudgeries, drug courts have become one of the most successful strategies for cutting crime and saving both lives and tax dollars.
Rejecting old attitudes about addiction
Thirty years ago, drug courts didn’t exist. People with long histories of addiction and crime just cycled through the justice system, at great expense to the public, and with little hope that anything would change.
We have learned more about addiction today, and treatment courts represent a compassionate approach to this disease. The very existence of 3,000 drug courts across the country validate the belief that people with addiction deserve opportunities to get well and support to recover.
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Today, drug courts and other treatment courts have proven that a combination of accountability and compassion saves lives while also saving valuable resources and reducing exorbitant criminal justice costs. This year alone, more than 150,000 individuals nationwide who entered the justice system due to addiction will receive life-saving treatment and a another chance to turn their lives around.
Scientific research has shown that treatment courts reduce crime and drug use and save money. Research shows treatment courts also improve education, employment, housing, financial stability, and family reunification, which reduces foster care placements. Congress has been unwavering in its support of treatment courts, and the most recent appropriations process allotted a historic amount of funding for these lifesaving programs.
Drug courts support MAT
The National Drug Court Institute (NDCI) was formed in 1997 in response to a great need for standardized, evidence-based training and technical assistance. Since then, NDCI has continually evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of treatment court professionals and have emerged as the definitive authority on the latest research, best practices, and cutting-edge innovations to treat offenders facing substance use and mental health disorders.
With endorsement and funding from a variety of federal agencies—including the US Department of Justice, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—NDCI has successfully trained more than 200,000 adult, family, juvenile, and tribal drug court professionals in all 50 states, Washington DC, and three of four US territories. NDCI faculty and staff provide a level of expertise and historical and practical knowledge unrivaled in the field. Together, they span a broad range of disciplines, including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court administrators, program coordinators, case managers, treatment providers, and law enforcement officials located around the world.
NDCI believes that the opioid epidemic has highlighted the need for all treatment courts to adopt best practices related to medication-assisted treatment (MAT). A study published in 2012 found that 56 percent of drug courts offer MAT, however 98 percent of drug courts reported opiate-addicted participants. Barriers to MAT include cost, availability and court policy.
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At CleanSlate, we work every day to decrease the barriers to MAT. And we see how drug courts help patients connect with MAT programs like ours.
So many patients that we treat entered drug court programs addicted to drugs and often faced long-term incarceration. But because of the combination of accountability and treatment they received in drug court, they are now returning to school, reuniting with their families, finding employment, and paying taxes.
Drug courts reflect a commitment to support people who are struggling with addiction rather than judge them and throw them away. Every day, I approach patients with the same compassion, and I see how evidence-based treatment helps people restore their lives. When people are able to address their substance use disorders with the right treatment and support, they can become productive citizens.
Throughout May, drug courts across the country will celebrate National Drug Court Month, celebrating the lives restored by drug court, and advocating for the further expansion of these programs to reach more people in need. Let's honor the importance of drug courts to individuals, families, and cities at large - and spread the same sense of compassion around addiction to other parts of our society.
CleanSlate treats patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction with medications and a continuum of integrated care to support each individual's journey to recovery. If you or someone you love needs help, contact us at 833-505-HOPE, or visit our website at www.cleanslatecenters.com to find the center nearest you.
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