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Drug Court Policy Change

The Federal Government just announced a new change in policy surrounding federally assisted drug courts, this change guarantees drug court defendants the ability to receive medication based treatments for opioid addiction. Across the country many drug courts, which give defendants the opportunity to defer and reduce sentences and get treatment, have refused to allow defendants access to medications that can treat addiction. Specifically a medication called suboxone, a semi-synthetic opioid which prevents overdosing, neutralizes cravings, and, when used properly is not intoxicating.

 

This action by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy guarantees that defendants in drug courts that are federally supported have access to these medications, and will not be required to go off of them until instructed to do so by a physician treating them. Meaning that a judge cannot order a drug court defendant to discontinue their use of treatment medications.

 

This policy change exists because of a joint venture between the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This change will give defendants the best possible access to addiction ending medications, such as suboxone, which doctors and scientists say are the best way to treat addiction. While these medications are considered the best possible treatments for addiction, many judges are opposed to the idea of allowing defendants access to these medications. Judge Karent Thomas, a drug court judge in Campbell County Kentucky, was quoted as saying, “It sounds terrible, but I don’t give them a choice. This is the structure that I’m comfortable with.”  Pamela Hyde, an administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated, “We’ve made that clear: If they want our federal dollars, they cannot do that.” Meaning the removal of medication as a treatment for addiction. Hyde went on to say, “We are trying to make it clear that medication-assisted treatment is an appropriate approach to opioids.”

 

While this policy change only affects drug courts that receive federal funding, and fully state and civil funded drug courts can write their own policies regarding the matter, this is a huge step forward in American drug policy. A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a statement that put the policy in no uncertain terms stating, “Under no circumstances may a drug court judge, other judicial official, correctional supervision officer, or any other staff connected to the identified drug court deny the use of these medications when made available to the client under the care of a properly authorized physician and pursuant to a valid prescription and under the conditions described above.”

 

 

Cara Tangaro

Salt Lake City, Utah Criminal Defense Attorney

801.673.9984

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