Weekly Columns

The opioid epidemic takes 94 American lives every single day, but Blayne is one of the lucky ones. This Arkansan recently met with me and shared his journey to overcome addiction. He was facing 20 years in prison because of crimes he committed to support a 10-year dependence on prescription drugs, but thanks to drug courts, he got the tools he needed to stop using drugs, and helped him reconnect with his family, find employment and get his life back on track.

For more than two decades, drug treatment courts have offered Arkansas’s drug-addicted, non-violent offenders an alternative to jail while rehabilitating them through a strenuous treatment program. 

Nearly 90 specialty courts in Arkansas provide life-saving treatment to more than 3,000 individuals with substance use disorders. The results are impressive. Our state also saves $45 million each year by diverting these offenders from prison to drug courts.

They are a critical component of today’s criminal justice system. 90 percent of Arkansas drug court participants’ drug tests come back negative for illegal substances, compared to 64 percent of those on probation and parole.

Drug courts have proven to be an effective alternative to jail for individuals convicted of non-violent narcotics charges.

Holding offenders with substance use and mental health disorders accountable through strict supervision and treatment, drug courts and veterans treatment courts have saved billions of tax dollars and the lives of more than 1.5 million people.

As Washington pursues options for criminal justice reform, drug courts are a great example of a program that works. More than 25 years of research has proven they reduce crime and substance use, break the vicious cycle of recidivism and keep families together.

In Arkansas and every other state in the country, drug courts are making a real difference.

We recognize May as National Drug Court Month. This is a great opportunity for Congress to show its commitment to the Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program and the Veterans Treatment Court Initiative at the Department of Justice.

While there are 150,000 Americans being served by drug courts and veterans treatment courts today, there are more than one million individuals in our justice system who do not yet have access to these life-saving programs.

I’ve encouraged my colleagues to support resources for these programs to improve public safety, save taxpayer dollars and, most importantly, save lives.

The willingness of the judicial system to adopt alternative methods to jail time is a cost-effective approach to changing the habits of drug addicts and saving the lives of people like Blayne who today is a dedicated family man. He is quick to credit drug courts for turning his life around. “Drug court was a chance to become the father and husband I wanted to be,” he told me. We need to provide others who struggle with addiction that same opportunity.