Drug court

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(Host) Drug abuse is a growing problem in Vermont, but commentator David Moats says that there’s a new concept for coping with it that looks promising.

(Moats) Vermont has come face to face with the scourge of drugs. There are hundreds of heroin addicts living among us. Crack cocaine has found its way here.

And for the most part, the people using these drugs are not outsiders. They are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. And their addictions are hurting us all. Their crimes and their parasitic lifestyle weaken our society and cost us money.

But the human toll of these devastated lives is a far greater loss. Anyone who has watched a loved one or a friend wrestle with his or her demons understands that loss.

And we have to know by now that whatever we have tried to address the problem of drug abuse hasn’t worked. Every few years a new war on drugs is announced, and all the while new waves of people fall victim.

A panel of experts came to Rutland recently to talk about these failures and about a program that has done better than almost anything else to change things. The state is planning to establish a drug court in Rutland next year. Around the country drug courts have worked because they enlist the twin values of toughness and compassion. The panel in Rutland described how it works.

When offenders are arrested on drug-related offenses, they are assigned to drug court. There, with a possible jail sentence hanging over their heads, they are offered treatment.

For the drug court to work, there have to be effective treatment programs in place, including medical treatments such as methadone and behavioral treatments, including counseling and the close monitoring of possible drug use.

Drug courts work because the court wields the hammer of a possible jail sentence. Through long experience we know jail alone doesn’t solve the problem. So common sense dictates that we give drug abusers the means to change their ways. It’s in their interest and it’s in our interest that they do so.

There is a growing body of experience showing that this approach to the problem works. There are hundreds of drug courts in operation all across the country.

They are not a cure-all. There is no cure-all. But drug courts allow us to look drug abusers in the eye and give them the chance to clean up their act. Nobody can clean up their act for them. But more often than not, they can’t do it unless there is someone there to help.

Helping them is not a sign of weakness or indulgence or bleeding heart liberalism. It’s a sign that we want to do what we need to do to solve the problem. And it’s not just bleeding hearts who are calling for better treatment options. The police are among those leading the charge. They know they can’t do the job alone.

It has always seemed to me that Vermont is a small enough place that we could be a model for other states in addressing the problems of alcohol and drug abuse. The new drug court could be a step in that direction.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald.

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