New York joins the list of states ruling drug courts must allow med-assisted treatment or lose federal funding

New York joins the list of states ruling drug courts must allow med-assisted treatment or lose federal funding

A new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo orders New York’s drug court judges to stop acting like doctors and let addicted defendants continue their treatment medications. Many, if not most, of New York’s 140-plus drug courts force drug-addicted defendants to stop taking doctor-prescribed medications and go “cold turkey” in jail. They tell the defendants that to qualify for the free court-ordered treatment and thereby have charges against them dismissed, they have to quit their methadone, Suboxone, Vivitrol or any other Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) they might be on. The same attitudes and practices exist in many other drug courts across the country.

Judges routinely force defendants off their doctor-prescribed MAT medications, and insist on complete drug abstinence. They usually insist on 12-step programs as well which are not appropriate for everyone. There’s a good reason why Cuomo decided to sign the new regs into law. In February, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that federal funding for drug courts will be denied if offenders are made to stop taking MAT medications to treat opioid addiction. The ONDCP and other public health agencies are pushing for wider acceptance of MAT, claiming that it offers the best chance at sobriety. But many others, especially drug court judges, call MAT drugs a “crutch”, arguing that defendants in their courtrooms should be made to abide by strict abstinence. An ONDCP spokesperson told Huffington Post that treatment centers that insist on strict abstinence should also be on notice. Mario Moreno Zepeda said, “Our goal is to expand access to treatment, and to medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. We will continue working at the Federal level to increase access to these medications, as well as to strengthen policies and contractual language to ensure that grantees – including criminal justice and treatment programs – permit the use of all FDA-approved medications.”

Earlier this year, we reported on a similar situation in Kentucky, where for decades drug court judges have ordered defendants to quit MAT and adopt abstention. But the state’s lawmakers, threatened by the loss of federal funding, passed regulations forbidding judges from the practice. After the ruling, a well-known, award-winning Kentucky Drug Court judge with decades of experience dealing with drug crimes and addictions has gone public with claims that the widespread use of drug-assisted treatment, particularly the drug Suboxone, is accomplishing next to nothing in terms of recovery. Judge David A. Tapp says he’s seen enough problems with Suboxone opioid addiction treatment to know it’s causing problems, not solving them. Judge Tapp says Suboxone is an opioid and is more often than not being diverted and sold by addicts to pay for pills and heroin. He said a recent editorial in the Lexington, KY, Herald-Leader stating that Suboxone will reduce addiction and overdose deaths “is, to put it mildly, dead wrong.”

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s Kenton county has taken another tack and passed game-changing legislation. Kenton County is part of the so-called Tri-State Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Area – a densely populated urban sprawl shared by Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, that is a hotbed of drug abuse and crime. Police in Kenton now send non-violent opioid offenders straight to treatment rather than jail – a trend among police forces across the country where heroin has joined prescription opioids as the major drug problem in the region.

Here at Novus, our game-changing medical opioid detox protocols are also making waves. Patient after patient is winning their life back from opioid dependence and addiction. If you or someone you care about needs help with a drug problem, call us right away.

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