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Rural Health Information Hub

Drug Courts

Drug courts are specialized courts that offer an alternative to jail for a person who has committed a crime and has a substance use disorder. Drug courts closely supervise offenders with substance use disorders (SUDs), require drug testing and treatment, and levy consequences for failed drug tests or other non-compliance issues. Drug courts typically specialize in subpopulations like juveniles and families. Some drug courts deal with specific substances or offenses, such as driving under the influence.

There is strong evidence that drug courts reduce drug use and reduce drug-related recidivism in adults. Learn more about the benefits and costs of youth-related drug courts and adult drug courts.

While rural drug courts may not have the resources of their urban counterparts, they may benefit from close working relationships with other branches of government in their communities and may even be personally familiar with individual citizens and their families.

Family treatment drug courts (FTDCs) have demonstrated strong evidence to effectively help manage SUD by increasing access to treatment and family reunification. FTDCs include intense juvenile monitoring, drug treatment, and testing and compliance.

Examples of Drug Courts

  • Suffolk County, New York has implemented an alternative to incarceration program. The Suffolk County (NY) Drug Treatment Court program provides education and treatment for SUD. A study demonstrated a lower recidivism rate for drug court participants than those in the comparison group.

Considerations for Implementation

Common barriers to implementing drug court programs in rural communities include but are not limited to:

  • Lack of treatment availability to the full continuum of treatment services
  • Lack of access to adequate wraparound services for drug court participants
  • Lack of substance free housing for participants
  • Limited transportation options to treatment facilities
  • Provision of proper training for drug court staff
  • Confidentiality of drug participants in treatment
  • Provision of drug testing at a reasonable cost that adheres to evidence based practices

Resources to Learn More

Drug Court Treatment Issues in Rural America
Presentation Slides
Discusses strategies to overcome many of the common barriers rural drug courts experience.
Organization(s): Bureau of Justice Assistance U.S. Department of Justice and American University School of Public Affairs
Date: 1/2014

Drug Courts: An Effective Strategy for Communities Facing Methamphetamine
Provides information and data for state and local policymakers supporting drug courts in their efforts to develop safer communities, reduce recidivism, restore families, and foster abstinence from methamphetamine use.
Author(s): West Huddleston III, C.
Date: 5/2005

Medication-Assisted Treatment in Drug Courts Recommended Strategies
Presents information on medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and offers recommended strategies for drug courts when incorporating MAT. Presents profiles of courts using MAT and identifies specific considerations for rural communities.
Author(s): Friedman, S. & Wagner-Goldstein, K.
Organization(s): Legal Action Center, Center for Court Innovation, New York State Unified Court System
Date: 4/2016

National Drug Court Resource Center
Provides a database of resources including training and technical assistance, a drug court locator by state, fact sheets, and sample forms.