Kentucky Drug Courts Allow Opioid Addicts Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment

By Victoria Kim 04/23/15

The commonwealth will no longer require addicts to stop medications in order to stay in drug court.

Steve Beshear
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear Photo via

Opioid addicts in Kentucky will no longer be required to stop taking prescribed treatment medications in order to participate in the state’s drug court program, a motion filed in court on April 3 stated.

Previously, the Kentucky Supreme Court’s rules required addicts to stop taking medications like Suboxone within six months in order to remain in drug court. But after the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced in February that drug courts which receive federal funding will no longer be allowed to ban such medications, the state changed its policy in response to the new federal rules, as some Kentucky drug courts could lose funding if they did not comply with the ONDCP’s new policy.

The rule change is a step forward for advocates of medication-assisted treatment—as opposed to abstinence-only treatment—but it’s yet unclear what the revised policy actually means for opioid addicts in the Kentucky judicial system.

Douglas L. McSwain, a lawyer representing Kentucky, told the Huffington Post that the new policy could mean judges will use their discretion on a case-by-case basis on whether to allow medication-assisted treatments or not.

However, drug court judges in Kentucky apparently have a reputation for favoring abstinence-only treatment, according to the Huffington Post, which published a feature called "Dying To Be Free" in January that explored the commonwealth's drug court policy and use of abstinence-only treatment.

Ned Pillersdorf, a lawyer for a nurse who sued the commonwealth in March for preventing opiate addicts like her from receiving medication like methadone and Suboxone, argued the rule change doesn’t go far enough.

“It’s really a battle between the courts and the doctors,” said Pillersdorf. “The doctor-patient relationship is sacrosanct. The court should get out of the way.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr