New Harford County District Court Program Fights Opioid Dependency

Feb 27, 2017

(BEL AIR, MARYLAND, February 27, 2017) ─ The District Court of Maryland, in an effort to provide an alternative to traditional incarceration for drug offenses, has launched the Adult Opiate Recovery Court in Harford County.  Originally started as a drug treatment court in 1997, the newly redefined drug court is the first special docket in the state designed specifically for people facing opioid-related criminal charges.  The opiate recovery court will provide supervision and structure while helping participants obtain the services they need to overcome dependency.  Harford County District Judge David E. Carey serves as the presiding judge for the four-phase, 12-month program, which has grown from four to 10 participants.  The opiate recovery court can accommodate up to 40 participants and features a 24-month aftercare plan.

Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, said, “This innovative program is part of the Judiciary’s ongoing commitment to serving communities and addressing unique local needs.  By bringing together community service providers and working with our justice partners, we are collaborating to address a growing health crisis by giving people an opportunity to reclaim their lives.  In doing so, we are helping to strengthen families and communities in Maryland.”

The opiate recovery court’s mission is to provide a court-managed drug treatment and monitoring program that addresses rehabilitation in the form of medication and counseling for opioid-dependent participants as an alternative to traditional case processing.  In order to receive entry into the program, a Harford County resident facing criminal charges stemming from opioid abuse must be diagnosed with an opioid dependency after completing a drug and alcohol assessment administered by a licensed treatment facility.

John P. Morrissey, Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland, said, “Placing someone in jail can separate them from the drug for a period of time, but to avoid recidivism we need to bring justice partners together and understand the multiple ways we need to address a person’s addiction.  I am encouraged by the progress we have made early on, and I know the dedication Judge Hazlett and Judge Carey give to their courts will translate to making a positive impact in people’s lives throughout Harford County.”

The opiate recovery court is one of Maryland’s 37 drug treatment courts, consisting of adult, juvenile, family recovery, and DUI courts.  Drug treatment court programs are one way the Judiciary upholds its commitment to “be responsive and adaptable to changing community needs,” a stated goal in the Strategic Plan for the Maryland Judiciary.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office reports that there were 290 suspected heroin overdoses in 2016, with 56 fatalities, surpassing the 201 heroin overdoses and 27 fatalities in 2015.  The Sheriff’s Office publishes updated overdose statistics on its website’s homepage every Monday.

Susan H. Hazlett, Administrative Judge for the Harford County District Court, said, “By entering the Adult Opiate Recovery Court, people have a chance to get the help they need and change the direction of their lives.  Opiate addiction is powerful.  If they continue in their addiction, they will spend considerable time in jail or die from an overdose.”

Judge Hazlett leads the opiate recovery court advisory committee, which consists of representatives from the Harford County Health Department, Detention Center, Office of Community Services, Office of the Public Defender, and Office of the State’s Attorney.  From March 2016 to July 2016, the committee developed the program’s policies and process from best practices throughout the state.

Judge Carey said, “The court’s management of this special docket allows for a comprehensive, medically guided process to fight addiction on a case-by-case basis over the long term.  I commend our participants for taking these steps to overcome dependency.  The demands we place on them are challenging but designed to give people their best chance to prevent further use and interaction with the court.”

The Judiciary’s problem-solving courts are part of a network of specialty dockets responding to the underlying problems that bring people into court, such as drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness and/or family or personal issues.  The courts combine ongoing judicial oversight with intensive treatment, supervision, and services through the collaborative efforts of the Judiciary, prosecutors, community corrections agencies, treatment providers, and other community support groups.  Maryland’s first drug court was established in 1994 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.