Essay: Improving Drug Courts Through Medication-Assisted Treatment for Addiction
35 Pages Posted: 14 May 2016 Last revised: 9 Apr 2019
Date Written: May 13, 2016
Empirical studies demonstrate that medication-assisted treatment (including the use of methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone) is more effective at preventing opiate addiction relapse and recidivism than regular attendance at twelve-step groups or mental health counseling alone. However, less than half of drug courts provide access to medication-assisted treatment, and half of drug courts explicitly ban their use.
This essay explores why drug courts fail to provide the most medically advanced forms of drug addiction treatment. Reasons include the following: a cultural preference for abstinence-only treatments; belief that addiction medication is “immoral”; hyperbolic fear of the illegal diversion of medication; cultural loyalty to twelve-step groups; preference for morality-based approaches; and lack of knowledge about addiction treatment medications.
Finally, the essay proposes approaches for expanding medication-assisted treatment in drug courts. Proposals include increased judicial deference to physicians, collaboration between drug courts and community health providers, state funding incentives, enhanced training and educational opportunities for drug court staff, and incorporation of treatment methods in drug court accreditation.
Keywords: drug courts, medication-assisted treatment, addiction, drugs
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