Drug Courts: Testing the Assumption That Addicts Cannot Be Rehabilitated
Miami-Dade County, Florida, established the first Drug Court in 1989 amidst a growing crack cocaine epidemic. Tired of seeing the same abusers reentering the system for drug-related crimes—a sign the system wasn’t working—Miami-Dade took a chance on a new approach.
Fast forward 25 years to October 2014 and the opening of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s new Niche Diagnostics Center of Excellence in Fremont, Calif. Among the major areas of focus for this new $85 million facility is drugs of abuse screening, a welcome sign that innovation continues. After all, despite the success of programs such as Drug Court, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that illicit drugs cost our nation $193 billion annually.
The role of drugs of abuse screening cannot be overstated. According to Christopher Deutsch, director of communications for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), “Drug Court not only provides quality treatment, it also offers substance abuse monitoring. If participants can get away with using drugs while in the Drug Court, it negatively affects their individual outcomes and undermines the efficacy of the entire program.”
The NADCP has advocated for broader nationwide drug court expansion for 20 years. Its first president, Judge Jeffrey Tauber, played a major role in developing the drug court-focused portion of the 1994 Crime Act under President Clinton, which provided significant federal funding to Drug Courts. (Watch The Beginning, a documentary profiling how the concept of Drug Court was first received and what it took to implement the first several programs.)
Drug Courts rely heavily on laboratory technology, and that technology must keep pace with a growing offender population and the proliferation of new designer drugs such as cathinones, bath salts and other amphetamine derivatives. Without instruments such as the Thermo Scientific™ Indiko™ Plus benchtop chemistry analyzer—which can analyze up to 350 samples an hour—combined with a broad portfolio of assays and advance sample collection technologies, Drug Courts could easily be overwhelmed. Instead, the technology continues to advance, bringing greater efficiency to the process.
Shelby County, Alabama, has relied on Thermo Scientific drugs of abuse solutions for years. Its drug court lab operates seven days a week and tests between 200-300 samples daily. David Horn, the executive director of Shelby County Community Corrections, says that it's imperative that court officials have reliable technology since offenders in his jurisdiction are tested 8-12 times each month. “I look at the lab as the backbone,” Horn said. “It’s like the engine of a car. Without it, we’re done. And the validity of it is huge.”
Today, there are more than 2,800 Drug Courts nationwide, with at least one in each of the 50 states. And, according to NADCP’s Deutsch, about 75 percent of the participants who successfully complete Drug Court are never arrested again. The reverse is true for addicts moving through in the traditional court system.
Proponents of Drug Courts agree that accurate testing—done randomly and regularly—is key to the success of the program. Knowing that the system is unbeatable is an important first step in an offender’s journey toward personal accountability and responsibility.
“Drug Courts must be able to test frequently and randomly to be effective,” says Deutsch. “Resources can sometimes be scarce, so it is critical that the technology continually advance to allow drug courts to do more with less.”
And that’s why the new Niche Diagnostics Center of Excellence is so important—the work of advancing drugs of abuse testing is never done. As the drug court system enters its next 25 years, and continues to expand, the team in Fremont is ready to do its part to ensure that the best supporting technology is always there, helping to prove that addicted people can be rehabilitated and find permanent recovery.