Jaclyn M. Nichols Attorney at Law
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Pennsylvania's drug courts help address the opioid crisis

Many states have been seriously impacted by the opioid crisis. Pennsylvania has not been spared the impact of the use of opioids. In 2016, there were 2,235 people who died from opioid-related overdoses. That equals a rate of 18.5 deaths per 100,000 people. Nationally, the recorded rate is 13.3 deaths per 100,000, showing that the state is struggling particularly hard with this epidemic.

It's not just heroin that leads to overdoses. In fact, while heroin deaths have increased from 131 deaths to 926, it's synthetic opioid overdoses that are even worse. They increased from 98 to 1,309 deaths. Prescription-related opioid deaths rose by almost 50 percent, from 411 to 729.

How is the state addressing the opioid epidemic?

While it's easy to throw people in prison when they're addicted to drugs or selling them to others, the reality is that doing so doesn't treat the problem and burdens the prison system. Instead, nonviolent offenders may have the option of receiving substance abuse treatment and alternative penalties.

The goal is to keep people away from opioids in the future and to give them a chance at breaking free from drug addiction. It is better, economically, to help people recover so that they can return to work and contribute to society.

Pennsylvania's drug courts integrate substance abuse treatment with case processing. The goal is to approach the situation not as an adversary but, instead, as an advocate. The public has to be protected, but at the same time, participants' due process rights also need to be protected. Eligible participants are promptly placed into the drug court for processing.

Abstinence from drugs and alcohol is the goal, so frequent drug and alcohol testing takes place. Participants who comply with the requirements of the drug court often see reduced penalties and better outcomes.

If you are charged with a drug-related crime, Pennsylvania's drug courts could help you get back on your feet and break free of the addictions that led to criminal behaviors. As more research comes forward to explain the link between addiction and criminal acts, it's becoming more common for the courts to assist those who have addictions rather than to lock them up and ignore the problem.

Substance abuse changes lives, but with the right help, it's possible to reduce penalties and get the medical care you need through the drug court system in Pennsylvania.

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