U.S.: Federal Govt. To Block Funds For Drug Courts That Refuse Medication-Assisted Treatment

DrugCourt[CrimeMuseum]

New Policy Indicates Better Understanding of Addiction, Public Health Crisis

The acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, this week said the federal government will deny federal funding to drug courts across the country that refuse medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opiate addictions.

The ONDCP will now withhold federal funding from drug courts that prevent people suffering from opiate addictions from having access to drugs such as methadone and Suboxone that can allow them to lead normal lives despite their addiction, reports Jason Cherkis at The Huffington Post.

“I rarely get a chance to applaud the ONDCP, so I’m enjoying this,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “People with addictions deserve access to treatment that works, and any policy that stands in the way of the recovery process is an affront to human rights.”

Because heroin is physically addictive, with users experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms such as depression, nausea and vomiting, those who abstain have a high rate of relapse. However after a period of abstinence, their tolerance drops and doses they could handle while a regular user become lethal. This is often when overdoses occur.

But in places such as Kentucky, drug courts have been forcing people with addictions off of recovery medications like methadone and Suboxone that allow them to lead normal lives without needing heroin. (Suboxone functions similarly to methadone, but can be taken with a prescription, unlike methadone, which users have to travel to special clinics every day in order to secure, a practice that’s prohibitive to many.)

Many doctors and scientists believe these treatments to be far more effective than programs based on abstinence.

Heroin addiction rates have remained a problem improperly addressed since the Harrison Narcotics Act was instituted 100 years ago. While the law was originally intended to regulate opiate and cocaine products in medical settings by licensing those involved in the market, a portion of the bill was interpreted by law enforcement to mean that doctors no longer had the authority to prescribe narcotics as a maintenance treatment for patients already suffering from substance addictions.

Addiction has since been primarily viewed as a criminal problem rather than a public health crisis. Imprisonment for addiction has contributed to high rates of recidivism, social misconceptions about addiction and high rates of addiction relapse.

LEAP is a nonprofit of criminal justice professionals who know the War On Drugs has created a public safety nightmare of increased gang violence, police militarization and the fueling of dangerous underground markets.

Graphic: Crime Museum