Are all drug abusers in the criminal justice system good candidates for treatment?

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQS) About Drug Abuse Treatment for People Involved with the Criminal Justice System.

Reprinted from “Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations” by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (in the Public Domain) by Thomas A. Wilson, MA, LCPC & CEO of Tom Wilson Counseling and Telehealth Center.

4. Are all drug abusers in the criminal justice system good candidates for treatment?

A history of drug use does not in itself indicate the need for drug abuse treatment. Offenders who meet drug dependence criteria should be given higher priority for treatment than those who do not. Less intensive interventions, such as drug abuse education or self-help group participation, may be appropriate for those not meeting criteria for drug dependence. Services such as family- based interventions for juveniles, psychiatric treatment, or cognitive- behavioral interventions for changing “criminal thinking” may be a higher priority for some offenders, and individuals with mental health problems may require specialized services.

Low motivation to participate in treatment or to end drug abuse should not preclude access to treatment if other criteria are met. Motivational enhancement interventions may be useful in these  cases. Examples include motivational interviewing and contingency management techniques, which often provide tangible rewards in exchange for meeting program goals. Legal pressure that encourages abstinence and treatment participation may also help these individuals by improving retention and prompting longer treatment stays.

Drug abuse treatment is also effective for offenders who have a history of serious and violent crime, particularly if they receive intensive, targeted services. The economic benefits in avoided crime costs and those of crime victims (e.g., medical costs, lost earnings, and loss in quality of life) may be substantial for these high-risk offenders. Treating them requires a high degree of coordination between drug abuse treatment providers and criminal justice personnel to ensure that the prisoners receive needed treatment and other services that will help prevent criminal recidivism.