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Maricopa County attorney says drug courts can help opioid epidemic

(Flickr/Brian Turner)

PHOENIX — Members of a White House commission on the opioid crisis recommended drug courts to curb the epidemic and the head prosecutor in Maricopa County said he agreed with the recommendation.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Arizona has been utilizing drug courts since 1992 and, in his opinion, they have been effective.

“The court system in Maricopa County allows for multiple opportunities for people to be dealt with in a way that acknowledges underlying substance abuse,” he said. “And I think that it’s been very successful in helping to steer people away from the criminal justice system and towards treatment.”

Montgomery said it helps if a judge has more than just a superficial understanding of what the nature of recovery is when they are deciding whether to order a person into substance abuse treatment.

“Think of it as a specialized caseload where the judge who’s handling those cases has a degree of training and awareness of the type of offender that they’re dealing with,” Montgomery said.

Drug courts are also beneficial because offenders can be better held accountable by the same judge each time they come to court.

“They’re very well aware of what your offense was and how you’ve been doing over the course of treatment,” he said. “If you look at most 12-step programs, the nature of those are accountability and having to answer to somebody for your conduct.”

Montgomery said that is different than other criminal divisions where offenders can cycle in and out of court in front of different judges based on assignments and other factors.

More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, with most of those deaths involving a prescription painkiller or an illicit opioid like heroin.

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