Legislation Permits Participants to Complete Drug Court While Using Medication Assisted Treatment Such as Methadone and Buprenorphine; Advocates Cheer Signing as Triumph of Good Public Health Policy and Lifesaving Reform
Trenton—(ENEWSPF)—August 10, 2015. Today Governor Chris Christie signed into law Senate Bill 2381/Assembly Bill 3723, which permits successful completion of drug court for those who are utilizing medication assisted treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders. The legislation gained bipartisan sponsorship and unanimous approval in the Legislature before reaching the Governor’s desk.
Champions of the legislation were critical of the fact that despite decades of evidence documenting the efficacy of MAT, particularly that of FDA-approved substitution medications such as methadone and buprenorphine in the treatment of opioid use disorder, many drug treatment programs and drug courts have been slow to embrace its use. Most New Jersey drug courts have required participants to discontinue MAT in order to complete the program or “graduate,” despite recommendations by their treatment providers. This much-needed reform brings the practices of New Jersey drug courts in line with current clinical standards.
“Medication assisted treatment for drug court attendees, like all other clinical decisions made by a provider for their patient, is a critical component in a person’s treatment and recovery plan. I thank the Governor for his support of this legislation and his continued leadership and support of Drug Court programs,” said Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex).
This victory also reflects a growing national consensus recognizing MAT as an evidence-based treatment that an essential tool in drug court settings. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals passed a resolution urging drug courts to integrate MAT into their programs and includes specific guidelines for doing so in their comprehensive best practices manual. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently announced that it will no longer fund drug courts that prohibit MAT, citing the right of individuals to access prescribed medications as part of a physician’s treatment plan. The Legal Action Center (LAC), a national organization that challenges discrimination against people with substance use disorders, even contends that denying access to MAT violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act and argues that increased utilization of MAT is necessary for mitigating a plethora of tragic yet preventable social problems such as unemployment, criminal recidivism, and overdose deaths.
Advocates applaud the signing of this legislation as a much-needed reform grounded in public health. “As a social worker and public health advocate, I am encouraged to see this important reform to our drug court system. New Jerseyans experiencing substance use disorders, including drug court participants, deserve access to treatment practices that are grounded in rigorous evidence and designed to support their well-being rather than perpetuate their failure,” said Amanda Bent, New Jersey Policy Coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Especially in light of our ongoing concerns about opioid abuse, this reform will improve and save lives by allowing those who benefit from MAT to utilize the treatment that best ensures their sustained recovery and long-term success.”
A broad coalition of groups and individual experts rallied behind this legislation, including the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence—New Jersey, the National Association of Social Workers—New Jersey, New Jersey Association on Correction and the Drug Policy Alliance.