As both a family law practitioner and a parent who has a child with an opioid addiction, I have, for many years now, had a front row seat to the damage that drugs can do to a family. Some years ago, we would encounter opioid addiction in a divorce case only occasionally. However, as the scope of this epidemic has grown in Maryland, so has its prevalence in child custody, divorce and in other family law matters. The good news is that Maryland was an early adopter of programs that work to not only enforce laws, but rather to coordinate teams of professionals to help families struggling with drug addiction.
Drug Treatment Court gives addicts an opportunity for treatment instead of prison. Family Recovery Court works to reunite families by helping parents who have had had their children taken away. Both programs have been in place since about 2004, but have become even more important with the growth of the opioid crisis. The courts will offer sanctions and terminate the program if necessary, but the focus is clearly on helping participants who are serious about turning their lives around.
By creating a collaborative group around each case, the court can monitor and guide every step of recovery. Each is a voluntary program that includes random, frequent drug testing, intensive outpatient or inpatient care and frequent court appearances. Many individuals who have drug addiction issues also suffer form mental illness. The “dual diagnosis” individuals can be particularly hard to treat. The overall treatment approach is to focus on getting the patient clean and helping them rebuild their lives – from mental health, to parenting and job skills training.
Drug Treatment Courts operate across Maryland and Family Recovery Courts are now in place in Harford, Baltimore, Charles and St. Mary’s. Counties.
In Maryland, and in similar programs across the country, rates of success have been high, with low recidivism. Many families every year are regaining their lives, while the cost to taxpayers is far less than that for foster care and prison. As one might imagine, I am hoping this trend continues and continues to expand throughout Maryland and the nation.