In 2014, more people died of a drug overdose than any other year on record, and today it is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. Many factors have contributed to the opioid epidemic, including an increase in the use of prescription painkillers and high unemployment rates in certain counties. The opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact on communities and public safety. Can drug courts help solve the opioid crisis?
The Opioid Epidemic and Its Impact on Drug Courts
How Drug Courts Work
Drug courts, which are also known as treatment courts, have been around since the 1980s. They help people addicted to drugs overcome their substance abuse by combining justice and treatment with consistency and accountability. Most drug court participants enter the program due to a low-level offense that they engaged in to support their habit, such as drug possession, theft, or forgery (source).
Participants receive intensive treatment and case management, but they must also abide by preventative measures like drug testing, supervision, and status hearings. Drug courts help addicted offenders achieve long-term recovery, and they assist society by reducing drug usage, decreasing crime, and helping the government save money on criminal justice and healthcare costs. To learn more about the benefits of drug courts, please check out our blog post Benefits of Drug Courts.
Consequences of the Opioid Epidemic
Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic is placing a financial strain on the judicial system, largely due to increased workload. Opioid addicts are more likely to relapse, which further burdens the system. In addition, some drug courts are also seeing more deaths due to the opioid epidemic: “I presided over drug court for four years back in the early 2000s, and it was primarily crack cocaine and nobody died,” said Judge Barbara Gorman, who presides over a drug court in Montgomery County, “Four years and nobody died. I’ve had three people die [during this opioid crisis] in my drug court.”
How Drug Courts Can Help
Earlier this month, on August 1, 2017, Newt Gingrich and Van Jones wrote a bipartisan article for TIME magazine entitled “Drug Courts Can Help Solve the Opioid Crisis.” They state that the opioid epidemic is currently the greatest threat to Americans’ public health and safety, and instead of attempting to address the issue with incarceration, the government should utilize drug courts: “Rather than fill our prisons and jails with people who are addicted to drugs or who suffer from mental illness, Congress should look to proven solutions that promote accountability and treatment. One model that deserves more national attention is treatment courts, such as those for drugs and veterans’ treatment” (source).
Drug courts have been studied extensively, and the resulting evidence proves that drug courts are successful at reducing drug use and recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) as well as family conflict. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice estimates that 1.2 million people currently in the justice system who could benefit from a drug court are unable to gain access due to strict eligibility rules (source). If lawmakers reduced these limitations, more people could benefit from drug courts, including both drug addicts and lawmakers.
A Prescription for Action, a joint report by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National League of Cities (NLC) that examines how counties and cities can help tackle the opioid crisis, recommends that officials turn to drug courts instead of incarceration for nonviolent offenders whose crimes stem from drug addiction.
Although drug courts require a higher upfront investment, the report states, they end up saving the government an estimated $5,680 to $6,208 per offender (source).
Plus, they have a profound impact on the treatment of veterans, who are nearly twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose when compared to civilians (source).
An increasing number of drug courts are choosing to specialize in a specific type of addicted offender, which allows the court to modify its program to better treat participants’ specific addictions. For example, when it comes to opioid addiction, drug courts need to act fast due to the high risk of overdose. Treatment might be given within hours instead of days.
Buffalo, New York, launched the first opioid intervention court earlier this year. If an offender tests positive for opioid use, they are directed to a treatment program if they’re struggling with addiction. Their criminal case is put on hold while they undergo treatment. The court focuses solely on opiate addiction, and treatment begins immediately. As of today, Buffalo is the only city in the United States to receive a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance for such a program (source).
Drug Testing for Drug Courts
According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, over 3,000 drug courts currently operate in U.S. states and territories. Tomo Drug Testing is proud to be a part of this positive change. We partner with treatment courts to create accurate, efficient, and cost-effective testing solutions customized for the unique needs of any judicial agency. We have experience working with Drug, DWI, Veterans, Mental Health, Family, and similar adult and juvenile courts. For more information, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!