Drug courts are widely used as a form of criminal justice intervention for people with drug-related offenses. However, they are often inconsistent in providing evidence-based treatment and fail to consider the individual needs of participants. This article examines the shortcomings of drug courts and why they are not an effective solution to the systemic problems of overdose deaths and mass drug arrests. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) recommends against turning away medical professionals, yet this is still a common practice in many drug courts. This lack of evidence-based treatment can have serious consequences for participants, such as reduced tolerance after being discharged from jail.
Furthermore, drug courts often exclude harm reduction centers, which are uniquely equipped to provide resources to injecting drug users and reduce the risks associated with drug use. Data surrounding drug courts can be misleading. The National Criminal Justice Referral Service claims that participants are less likely to be arrested or use drugs during and after being in the program. However, this ignores the fact that drug courts are more expensive and use more resources than voluntary treatment administered through the health system. President Joe Biden has vowed to end incarceration for drug use and has embraced drug courts as an alternative. However, this approach fails to address the root causes of addiction and does not provide adequate treatment options for those with more serious drug problems.
Furthermore, it ignores the growing consensus in the Americas on the need for drug law reform and alternatives to criminal sanctions for certain categories of drug offenses. The Drug Courts of the Americas present a series of recommendations that should be seriously considered by countries concerned about mass incarceration and that intend to move away from over-reliance on criminal justice responses to drug use. The most telling measure of whether or not the drug court model is an effective drug control strategy is contained in overdose statistics. Their experiences show that ending the criminalization of drugs coupled with serious investment in treatment and harm reduction services can virtually eliminate drug overdose deaths, while significantly improving safety and health. In conclusion, drug courts are not an effective solution to the systemic problems of overdose deaths and mass drug arrests. They are expensive, inconsistent in providing evidence-based treatment, and fail to consider the individual needs of participants.
It is time for the United States to make a concerted effort to reduce the failed drug war elsewhere by embracing alternatives such as harm reduction centers and investing in evidence-based treatment.