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"Drug courts are solution to the overdose crisis"

The Tired Narrative: 

Drug courts are an alternative to incarceration that combine treatment and judicial supervision for people with substance use disorders who have been arrested and charged for crimes that stem from their drug use. 

Instead of sending people with substance use disorders to serve time, drug courts impose a strict treatment regiment that participants must follow. If drug court participants do not meet the requirements set by the court (tests positive for substances, does not show up to treatment, etc.) then they will face jail time.


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News articles often hail drug courts as a universal positive. Judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials often say "drug courts work" without demonstrating why or how.


News stories invariably quote the occasional success story. Judges are also often quoted about medical and clinical decisions, decisions they're not properly trained to make. For example, punishing people who are "chronic relapsers." 


The Informed Narrative: 

The research on drug courts is decidedly mixed. The truth is, there are over 3,100 different drug courts operating in America and they all vary in how they operate. There is little oversight and accountability with respect to what kinds of treatment drug court participants are mandated to attend. 

Drug courts often enforce an "abstinence-only" approach to addiction treatment. Judges have the power to prohibit participants from taking medications like methadone and buprenorphine, which are considered the "gold standard" of care for opioid use disorder.  

Reporters must ask for evidence that supports claims that "drug courts work."  


Drug courts are reported as a therapeutic approach without offering evidence that punishment and threats of jail time help the recovery process. Some judges prohibit drug court enrollees from being on medications like methadone and buprenorphine. Physicians for Human Rights reported that some drug courts are simply punishment by another name. Journalists have the responsibility to report the scientific evidence. 

Connect with Expert Sources:

Brooke Feldman, in recovery, social work 

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Anne Giles, clinician, therapist

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David Lucas, restorative justice, drug court

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