Drug Courts and Other Effective Community Approaches to Addiction
What’s one community solution to tackling the addiction epidemic that’s enjoying tremendous success at reducing rates of relapse? Explore what it is and how it’s making a difference in a growing number of communities across this country:
Most traditional approaches to drug addiction involve either penalizing addicts as criminals, or involving them in support networks such as Alcoholics Anonymous. But, cracking down on drug use does little to reduce addiction or recidivism—plus, it creates additional costs (in providing for inmates and dealing with overcrowded prisons) and problems (by increasing stigma toward people with addiction and making them ashamed to seek help). And while support networks are highly effective in helping participants get and stay sober, availability of such options (and the opportunity to learn about them) varies from community to community. A more widespread, comprehensive approach is needed.
Since drug addiction affects whole communities, through increased crime, DUI tragedies and lost work productivity, among other things, it makes sense for communities to be the main force behind systematic, united approaches to addiction. One proven effective option is drug courts—multidisciplinary teams usually set up as branches of criminal-justice courts, but focusing on treatment and accountability to help drug offenders transition into long-term sober lifestyles. This article looks at drug courts and other effective community approaches to addiction.
WHAT DRUG COURTS DO?
Rather than simply implementing criminal penalties for drug use, drug courts guide people to effective recovery by focusing on:
- Coordination of various specialists, including experts in the physical realities of addiction
- Risk and needs assessment
- Making intensive treatment available to all
- Holding participants accountable for making sobriety plans and sticking to them
- Teaching new coping skills and encouraging families to get involved
- Tracking participant progress via random drug testing and periodic court reviews
- Providing rewards for sobriety instead of focusing exclusively on penalties for relapse
By supplying motivation and accountability for staying sober, drug courts have been able to achieve substantial results:
- Fewer than 30% of drug court participants come up positive in random drug tests, as compared to 46% of nonparticipants paroled after committing drug offenses.
- Drug court participants are measurably less likely than nonparticipants to get into additional trouble with the law.
- Drug courts return an estimated $1.50 of benefit for every dollar of cost. Costs saved through reduced recidivism total over $5,500 per participant.
The first official drug courts were implemented in Florida in 1989. Now, more than 3,100 drug courts exist in the United States.
Variations on the basic adult drug court model include:
- DWI Courts, which deal specifically with driving-under-the-influence cases
- Family Drug Courts, for parents facing child-neglect and other charges related to addiction issues
- Juvenile Drug Courts, for underage users
- Reentry Drug Courts, to aid those being released or paroled after serving time for drug-use convictions
- Veterans Treatment Courts, which work in partnership with mental-health courts and government-based veterans’ services
OTHER COMMUNITY APPROACHES
Outside the legal system, many community entities—religious congregations, community centers, medical associations and others—sponsor programs to aid addiction recovery and ongoing sobriety. The factors that best predict a program’s effectiveness include: understanding each individual’s personal struggles, providing easily accessible human support networks, and helping participants visualize and set goals for specific rewards of sobriety.
Many churches and community centers, of course, freely provide facilities for support-group meetings. And there are many additional types of community-based programs to help reduce addiction, including:
- Educational programs and seminars designed to circumvent “it can’t happen to me” thinking by helping people understand their personal risk factors.
- Educating doctors and pharmacists on the risks of inadvertently triggering or abetting addiction by being careless with prescriptions—and on how to spot addiction in patients who may come in for other concerns.
- Recreational programs or other organized leisure activities that encourage relationship building and require ongoing sobriety as a condition of participation.
- Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA) Plus Vouchers or similar programs that combine treatment with voucher systems (negative drug tests are rewarded with credits that can be redeemed for goods or services, usually ones directly relevant to sobriety goals).
HOW TO HELP
Even outside of organized programs, every member of any community has a stake in minimizing addiction problems. Citizens interested in helping promote effective community approaches to addiction can:
- Learn everything possible (and keep up with the latest news) about various types of drugs and about the physical, personal and relational issues involved in addiction. Attend a conference or seminar on relevant topics at least annually.
- Join mental/behavioral-health advocacy organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
- Support legislation providing for alternatives to imprisonment and for universal access to effective treatment.
- Understand that effective treatment is an ongoing process that involves considering the whole person as an individual.
- Understand that addiction can and does happen to “respectable” and “successful” people. Offer encouragement and a listening ear to anyone under stress (many cases of addiction could be stopped before they begin, if more people knew they had human support rather than self-medication to turn to when life feels “impossible”).
- Offer respect and support to acquaintances struggling with addiction.
- Be familiar with local support groups, and keep their contact information handy to share referrals as needed. Sit in on the occasional support-group meeting even if not directly affected by addiction, to better understand the challenges of getting and staying sober.
- Speak out in peer groups against the stigmatization of drug addiction and other mental illnesses. (Casual-conversation bigotry, allowed to pass unchallenged, can be the most dangerous kind.)
- Remember that positive change in communities—and the world—happens one person at a time.
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Crawford, Chris. “FP Leader Engages Community in Battling Substance Abuse.” American Academy of Family Physicians, July 23, 2014. Accessed August 29, 2017.
Miller, William R., Robert J. Meyers, and Susanne Hiller-Sturmhofel. “The Community-Reinforcement Approach.” Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1999, pp. 116-121. Accessed August 29, 2017.
National Association of Drug Court Professionals. “Types of Drug Courts.” Accessed August 29, 2017.
National Association of Drug Court Professionals. “What Are Drug Courts?” Accessed August 29, 2017.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service. “In the Spotlight: Drug Courts.” Accessed August 29, 2017.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” Revised July 2016. Accessed August 29, 2017.
Rosenberg, Tina. “Even in Texas, Mass Imprisonment Is Going out of Style.” New York Times, The Opinion Pages, February 14, 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017.