In the mist of New Hampshire's opioid epidemic, Governor Hassan has made the decision to sign Senate Bill 464 into law, establishing a statewide drug court program in each and every New Hampshire county. In her statement she thanked Judge Nadeu, all members of the judicial branch, dedicated law enforcement, drug court advocates and legislators.
In signing this legislation, Gov. Hassan will provide more than $2 million in matching state grants for counties to establish new drug courts and expand existing ones. In establishing these drug courts, the legislation further states that members of an advisory commission will review funding; a commission that has no physicians or psychiatrists trained in substance use or opioid disorder. Along with this money comes another $5 million over two years in federal aid to expand access to treatment for heroin and opioid disorders.
Drug court advocates led by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) are applauding; their advertisements, lobbying and celebrity endorsements worked yet again. Furthermore, in order to receive funds, the drug treatment courts in New Hampshire will need to be in compliance with the NADCP Best Practice Guidelines, a powerful hold over policy by an advocacy group.
The NADCP has a long time agenda to expand their hold on the criminal justice system and expand their mission. Through their All Rise public relations campaign, the NADCP is looking to expand specialty courts across the nation as well as overseas. This push to expand drug courts is supported by the White House and many others as a compassionate approach to illegal drug and alcohol use. These lobbying efforts proved effective in New Hampshire again this June.
Legislators were at a loss with the rising tide of overdose in New Hampshire and needed quick solutions. Deciding to increase criminal justice innovations to force individuals into treatment was a ready-made solution that received little resistance from legislators. The bi-partisan supported bill will now increase the number of drug treatment courts to well over 3,000 in the United States alone.
With this recent announcement, now comes the struggle and competition for dollars. According to the Concord Monitor New Hampshire has the third highest rate of overdose and is 49th in available treatment facilities and substance use disorder clinics. It has been at a tipping point for years.
Knowing that this legislation was under consideration, the rehab industry was ready and waiting to cash in on peoples' troubles and come to the rescue. Phoenix House is just one of many treatment facilities that will be standing in line for patients, insurance and Medicaid reimbursement. These facilities will partner with the drug court system with the understanding that they will have plenty of clients and may be able to expand facilities into yet another state or reopen facilities that could not fill beds.
While this may seem noble, these facilities as well as the rehab industry could not expand across the state unless they have a steady stream of patients and dollars. Now facilities not only will have patients, they will have patients that have "voluntarily" signed away many questionable rights with drug court waivers, marked as a criminal first to follow drug court participation agreements and handbooks with the understanding that a prison sentence awaits if they do not succeed under the drug court demands; all with ready money from taxpayers.
Needless to say, the public health issue in New Hampshire has been on the back burner for quite some time and families were understandably desperate; they are watching family members struggle and are trying to do what is best. Much like other states New Hampshire is in need of expanded child-care programs, public health programs, additional social service support programs as well as substance use programs. Finding care for loved ones is overwhelming; state medical insurance only goes so far and medication assisted treatment may be unavailable. As reported in NPR news, individuals are dying waiting for care.
Substance use treatment and support may be too far away, too expensive, too difficult to understand. Complicating this health issue is that drug use, addiction as well as the choice of treatment method is stigmatizing in and of itself. The medical community has differing viewpoints and patients keep their drug or alcohol use to themselves. The shame families experience continues to prevail but overdose deaths have increased at such a rate that legislators needed to address the outcry from the growing number of grieving families.
The legislators have spoken; they will add to the shame that families feel that continue to struggle with opioid and other drugs by expanding drug courts. Their loved ones may now be under the supervision of the criminal justice system, forced into mandated treatment that they have no control over all the while in fear of prison if they do not succeed. Viewed as "voluntary" and "compassionate" by advocates, other states that have drug courts have not reduced the overdose rate nor reduced the number of individuals that are under the watchful eye of the criminal justice system.
Statements that "drug courts work" needs to be explained. What does that really mean? They work to do what? NADCP continues to proclaim that drug treatment courts work to reduce recidivism but proof of this statement cannot be verified. According to the Congressional Research Service:
Regardless of what definition is used,recidivism is a difficult subject to study. Tracking recidivism involves following the cases of individuals for a number of years and relying on state or national-level data sets that contain inherent inaccuracies.
By expanding drug courts New Hampshire now has access to federal dollars and can set up programs to expand care. But it is at the expense of those that are arrested for drug and alcohol violations; a population that the public views with distaste. It is unfortunate that New Hampshire has bought into the public relation teams and expanded the reach of the criminal justice system into the lives of those that are in need of care. Those that could access treatment easily or who somehow do not get arrested stay on the sidelines and thank god that they did not end up in the criminal justice system. They will not be marked with a criminal record.
New Hampshire needs the grants and dollars to expand treatment, care and social programs to help those across the state to improve their health as well as their lives. They need drug education, prevention and family support. But do individuals and families need to be marked criminals in order to receive care and programs that should have been available to them in the first place?
Mark yourself a criminal and we will give you care; forced care which doctors view as unethical, protected by signed drug court waivers without any medical liability. It is quite a dilemma and the drug court advocates won.