By Jim Carroll
Carroll is the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Visit whitehouse.gov/ondcp for more information.
In big cities, small towns, and the suburbs in between, thousands of Americans who struggle with the disease of addiction are finding new life in an unexpected place: the courtroom. Even in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, drug courts are a powerful tool for leading Americans with a substance use disorder to health, stability, and recovery. Operating on the front lines of the addiction crisis, drug courts are also an invaluable resource for law enforcement and the many community partners impacted by drug use and related crime.
In Southwest Virginia, the drug court model is changing lives through the Montgomery County Adult Drug Court program. Led by Judge Bobby Turk and New River Valley Community Services, the Montgomery County drug court was launched in May of 2017 and has had 37 participants.
As an alternative to jail, participants undergo evidence-based treatment that can include medication, performing community service, maintaining employment, and meeting regularly with Judge Turk, law enforcement, and the drug court team to report on their progress. For many of the men and women enrolled, the drug court structure and compassion of Judge Turk and his team have served as a turning point in their battle with addiction and the beginning of a new way to live.
Consider the testimonies of Susan and Bently, two of the program’s very first graduates, who now both work as recovery coaches and help other people with substance use disorder in the region. For Susan, a single mom who was exposed to opioids after a bad car accident in her late teens, the Montgomery County program brought a network of positive and healthy people around her that were critical to her success while she began a new life in recovery.
And, for Bently, who faced a ten-year prison sentence before entering the program, the Montgomery County drug court was a vehicle that led him to treatment, connected him to a community of people who are committed to recovery, and cultivated a spirit of gratitude and desire to help others.
Combating the scourge of drug addiction is a top priority of the Trump Administration, one that can be seen in the improved quality of life for the people of Christiansburg, Roanoke, and beyond — people like Susan and Bently, who now have a new lease on life. Working with bold and innovative leaders like Judge Turk, the Trump Administration has engaged in an all-hands-on-deck approach that is saving lives.
Drug courts are a critical tool in this mission.
There are more than 3,000 drug courts in the United States ranging from small regional courts like the Montgomery County program to highly specialized models for specific populations such as veterans and families. In these settings, drug courts are reducing recidivism rates, saving budget resources for the community, and increasing access to treatment. For example, in just the first few years of its existence, the Montgomery County drug court has already saved the region more than $200,000. With a holistic approach, drug courts are also improving education, employment, housing, and financial stability in participants – all ingredients needed for success in long-term recovery.
Looking ahead, the Trump Administration is committed to leveraging drug courts to have an even bigger impact on treating addiction as a disease and breaking its cycle of devastation on communities.
Last year, we invested more than $169 million in drug court programs, including programs to support juveniles, veterans, and adult populations. The Administration has also convened several regional workshops to bring rural judges, sheriffs, and police chiefs together to share resources and best practices around addiction, including drug courts.
Beyond drug courts, the Trump Administration is committed to building strong and healthy communities in southwest Virginia through prevention. We have made substantial investments to prevent drug use before it even starts, including over $875,000 in funding for seven Virginia communities through our Drug-Free Communities Support Program (DFC) in 2019. This will help places like Roanoke, Tazewell, and Harrisonburg that have been hard hit by addiction build strong local coalitions to educate the next generation in their community about the dangers of substance use.
There is still much more to be done. With the stress that the COVID-19 public health emergency has brought to many families and communities across the United States, drug courts are needed now more than ever to help families recover.
Working together with local leaders like Judge Turk, Susan, and Bently, we can build strong, healthy and drug-free communities now and for generations to come.
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