Judges meet to help break addictions

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Hundreds of judges, prosecutors, and other court officials gathered at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids today for the Keys to Recovery Conference.

The 19th annual conference included educational programs geared to ending the addiction crisis in this country, with a focus on opioids and other drugs. "Not all drug courts are aware of and using certain kinds of medications that have been proven to be effective," said Dr. Doug Marlowe of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. "So we're trying to educate drug courts so that they just incorporate more medications into their otherwise effective programs."

Tens of thousands of Americans die each year as a result of opioid overdose. Many of them get addicted simply by way of prescription drugs. "West Michigan... We're not immune to the opioid crisis," said William Baillargeon, Chief Judge, District Court in Allegan County. "We have a good number of people within my courts that are dealing with opioids. But you know, methamphetamine is a strong driving course in our communities as is alcohol."

The judges and other court officials we spoke with agree: Incarceration is not the solution for those with severe drug addictions. "Because the crime is more the conclusion of their health issue," said Kathy Brickley, Chief and Circuit Judge, Van Buren County. "And so the more we treat it as the health issue that it is in a specialized fashion, the better the results we're going to get."

In fact, the experts say it is often easier to get drugs in jail or prison than it is on the street. They hope offering treatment rather than time in jail will reduce the chances that person ends up back in front of a judge.

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