Do Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Programs Actually Work?

A court-ordered substance abuse program mandates you to attend treatment as part of our sentence for substance offenses. Michigan certifies various rehab centers to provide court-ordered treatment that complies with the standards and best practices of care as determined by the government.

But the question remains: do court-ordered rehab programs in Michigan actually help you overcome addiction?

What Is Drug Treatment Court?

The drug treatment court uses a treatment representative to act as a liaison between the court and the treatment provider. The treatment providers are the organizations that actually provide rehabilitative services, and there are several quality programs located in Michigan.

MCL 600.1060(c) defines drug treatment courts as " a court-supervised treatment program for individuals who abuse or are dependent upon any controlled substance or alcohol." These courts are specially designed to reduce recidivism and substance abuse among nonviolent substance-abusing offenders. Additionally, they serve to increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous, and intense judicially supervised treatment, mandatory periodic drug testing, and use of appropriate sanctions.​

How Long Does Drug Treatment Court Last?

The drug court will place you in treatment as soon as possible, but the duration of treatment is less clear. According to Michigan Courts, “These courts are specially designed to reduce recidivism and substance abuse among nonviolent substance-abusing offenders and to increase the offenders' likelihood of successful habilitation through early, continuous, and intense judicially- supervised treatment, mandatory periodic drug testing, and use of appropriate sanctions.​” However, treatment lengths vary and are based on individual needs and circumstances.

Michigan has been a pioneer in the drug treatment court movement. Currently, there are 84 drug treatment courts in Michigan consisting of 32 adult drug courts, 23 DWI courts, 15 juvenile drug courts, 11 family dependency courts, and 3 tribal healing-to-wellness courts. These drug treatment courts operate in 40 counties.

What Do Court-Ordered Programs Provide?

Once a substance abuse program is selected, the drug court is obligated to provide you with the following:

The state of Michigan says outcomes are much better when drug courts provide treatment services that include residential care, recovery housing, and intensive outpatient services. However, many of the more comprehensive treatment services, including detox supervision or inpatient care, are not a standard or required service, but only a recommended best practice.

Why Court-Ordered Treatment Can Work

The state of Michigan believes that those who receive court-mandated treatment achieve similar outcomes to those who enter treatment on a voluntary basis. In fact, those who are court-ordered to treatment are actually said to stay in treatment longer and fulfill the commitment to the program.

Michigan also claims that court-ordered participants do just as well as voluntary patients ifthey make progress with 12-step involvement, clinical symptoms, coping skills, and motivation to change. According to the Michigan Supreme Court FY18 Annual report, the unemployment rate dramatically drops from court admission to successful completion of the program.

Bar graph showing the percentage of people unemployed at admission of drug treatment court vs. unemployed at discharge

Source: Michigan Supreme Court

Court graduates are also two times less likely to be convicted of a new offense within three years of admission.

Additionally, it’s also a standard practice for court-ordered addiction treatment programs to use evidence-based methods ideal for those in the criminal justice system. Medication-assisted treatment is also used when necessary.

Image alt tag: Bar graph showing the percentage of people who face any conviction within 3 years of graduation from drug treatment court

Source: Michigan Supreme Court

Why Court-Ordered Programs Might Not Work

As a court-ordered participant, you may receive the “standard” of treatment rather than comprehensive “best practices.” Court-ordered programs are criticized as being too short, underfunded or overbooked.

Involuntary treatment also has its share of risks. One fear of forcing a person into treatment is the increased risk of overdose. Furthermore, if you’re not committed to the program but are mandated to be there, you may be more likely to relapse. Due to tolerance levels, this can have devastating consequences.

Is There Any Evidence To Suggest Court-Ordered Treatment Is Effective?

According to researchers, there is little scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of court-ordered or compulsory addiction treatment, and many studies offer conflicting reports.

One report conducted in Massachusetts in 2016 found that court-mandated treatment was two-timed likelier to have its participants die from an opioid-related overdose. This is compared to those who entered a treatment program of their own volition.

However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the added legal pressure of court-ordered programs can increase attendance, motivate completion of treatment, and improve positive outcomes.

Court-Ordered Treatment Is What You Make It

If your local drug court follows the best practices laid out by the state of Michigan, then court-ordered substance abuse programs can be effective. Additionally, it’s important to remember there is no one method of treatment that’s best for everyone. How much you want to participate and grow in a court-ordered program is largely in your own hands. However, the Law Offices of Barton Morris is prepared to support you through this process and any legal battles that may arise from it.

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