Participants in Kentucky’s Drug Court system may be allowed to stay on their MAT drug prescriptions, according to a new change in the program’s rules. Previously, those given sentences in Drug Court who were taking MAT medications like Suboxone, methadone, and Vivitrol, had to taper off their prescriptions over a period of six months. That six-month limitation is now gone from the Drug Court Rules, giving KY judges the power to decide whether a defendant may remain on a prescription.
Will KY Drug Court participants really be allowed to stay on MAT drugs?
According to this reporting in the Huffington Post, some people are skeptical that the change in rules will effect much immediate change in the way defendants are actually treated. Due to traditional attitudes about the use of such drugs as methadone and Suboxone for heroin and opiate addiction, judges may still be more likely to require participants to use abstinence-only recovery methods. So although there is no formal ban on MAT drugs in KY Drug Court, in practice the participants could still be ordered to stop taking their medications.
MAT drug Vivitrol seeing limited use in KY Drug Court
There’s been a lot of debate about the use of MAT drugs in addiction treatment, both nationally and in the state. Although Suboxone often takes center stage in these debates, the drug Vivitrol has attracted notice within Kentucky, due to its limited use in the court system. KY Circuit Court Judge David Tapp has been testing the use of Vivitrol in a pilot program within Drug Court. He serves three KY counties, but he reportedly hopes that other counties will be open to allowing use of Vivitrol after seeing the success of his experimental program.
Why the change in KY Drug Court Rules?
In addition to the general movement toward greater acceptance of medication-assisted treatment, there might be a few different reasons for the formal change in KY Drug Court rules. Earlier this year the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy indicated that state drug courts would stop receiving federal grants if they continued to ban the use of MAT drugs, or if judges continued to order participants to stop taking their medications. It’s unclear whether federal dollars will stop flowing to state drug courts in which there is no formal ban but most judges still order participants to taper off their MAT drugs.
There has also been pressure on the KY Drug Court system from a lawsuit brought against the state. The suit, filed in Pikeville, KY, claims that courts which order defendants to stop taking their prescriptions for MAT drugs are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The state has motioned for the case to be dismissed due to the new Drug Court Rules, which no longer require participants to end their prescriptions after six months. But those bringing the suit say that in practice it will still be difficult for KY Drug Court participants to obtain and remain on their prescriptions. According to the Huffington Post article, KY court defendants had to sign documentation as recently as 2014 which explicitly stated that they would not use any MAT drugs before they could be released on bond. Until those stipulations are also changed, defendants may be forced to stop their prescriptions until they are admitted to Drug Court.