Michigan drug courts and medical drug treatment for opioid addiction

Drug courts are a great alternative to facing criminal charges, through participants denied medications during treatment may face a greater risk of relapse.

In May of this year, a Michigan judge announced the creation of the 50th Circuit Drug Court in Chippewa County. The Sault Ste. Marie Evening News reports commissioners advocated for the court on the basis that it will rehabilitate addicts as well as save taxpayers money.

According to the Michigan Courts, there are 84 such drug treatment programs across the state. These programs have been successful in helping many people avoid going to jail, enabling them to often continue to work and take care of their families. Additionally, statistics show that when a person goes through drug court, their chances of re-offending are much lower than a person who simply serves a jail sentence.

The drug court process

Designed for low-level drug offenders with substance abuse problems, drug court is an intensive program within the criminal justice system. Judges evaluate each case to determine if a defendant might qualify for the drug court, often taking factors into account such as the type of offense, the history of the person and the drug of choice.

Michigan Courts notes that this alternative process involves the use of comprehensive measures including treatment and therapeutic interventions. Participants must also submit to random and frequent drug testing to ensure sobriety. Failing a drug test could face legal repercussions such as going back to criminal court.

Medication-assisted programs

There are several approaches to addiction treatment within these drug court systems, including total sobriety and medication-assisted programs. Some courts allow people addicted to opioids, such as heroin, access to a medicated drug called Suboxone. Administered correctly in a controlled environment, it prevents overdoses and controls cravings without causing intoxication among opioid addicts.

Unfortunately, as The Huffington Post reports, there are several roadblocks addicts face in accessing a prescription, such as the following:

  • Physicians are only allowed to prescribe the medication for a maximum of 100 patients.
  • Many drug courts consider Suboxone to violate their abstinence-only policy.
  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration must certify physicians who wish to give patients access to Suboxone.

Suboxone's proven ability to help addicts has led to an announcement from the federal government this year that any drug court that bans the substance will no longer receive federal funding.

Denying medication can be tragic

Many drug court programs do not embrace the idea of giving medication treatment to people addicted to an opioid, opting for abstinence instead. However, a Huffington Post analysis found that denying this medication can result in tragic outcomes. The analysis revealed that the majority of opioid addicts who suffered fatal overdoses in Northern Kentucky in 2013 had a connection to a program based on abstinence, or had been in jail. It is unknown whether the incarceration was connected to a drug offense conviction. A felony drug court judge in Kentucky, who disagrees with granting people access to Suboxone, admits that relapses are a common occurrence.

Examining alternatives

When someone is arrested and charged with committing a low-level offense, there may be several alternatives available, including probation and participating in drug court. These alternatives can give people the ability to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society. Anyone with questions regarding drug courts in Michigan should consult with an attorney.

Keywords: drug crimes, charges, treatment, drug court