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$1M from opioid settlement will bolster drug treatment courts in Arkansas

By: - October 11, 2022 4:54 pm

(Getty Images)

Arkansas will direct $1 million of the $5.4 million it received from last year’s multi-state settlement with consulting giant McKinsey & Co. to the state’s 49 drug treatment courts, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Tuesday.

“With this additional funding, it is my hope that the Administrative Office of the Courts can continue to successfully rehabilitate Arkansans and restore hope in the lives that have been impacted by addiction,” Rutledge said in a news conference.

Adult Drug Courts are voluntary intervention programs for adults “​​involved in the criminal justice system due to underlying, unmanaged substance use disorders and are at increased risk of reoffending,” according to the Arkansas Judiciary website. The programs last 14 to 18 months and are an alternative to incarceration.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

Arkansas’ first drug treatment court began in Pulaski County in 1994.

About 2,800 Arkansans per year go through the Adult Drug Court programs in 49 of the state’s 75 counties, said Janet Hawley, the specialty court coordinator at the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Starting one new Adult Drug Court costs about $250,000.

Arkansas also has 15 juvenile drug courts, 12 DWI courts, 11 veterans treatment courts, six mental health courts and four HOPE and Swift courts, which are 18-month involuntary multiphase intervention programs for adults.

“It’s through these alternative sentencing courts, and our drug courts specifically, that we can lower the recidivism rate, that we can get people the help that they need, that we can stop the overcrowding in our prisons by making sure that those with addictions get treatment, and that we have judges across the state that are helping those addicts turn their lives around and stay out of the criminal justice system,” Rutledge said.

McKinsey agreed to a $573 million settlement with 47 state attorneys general, including Rutledge, and the District of Columbia in February 2021 for its role in advising drug companies on how to promote the use of opioids. Rutledge had filed a complaint in Faulkner County Circuit Court against McKinsey, claiming the firm helped Purdue Pharma with the marketing of its OxyContin drug.

Rutledge said at the time that Arkansas’ $5.4 million share of the settlement would be used for programs to help people affected by the national opioid crisis.

Independence County Judge Chaney Taylor reiterated Rutledge’s statement that drug courts prevent overcrowding in jails and prisons.

“These programs are designed to change criminal behavior in ways that jails cannot,” Taylor said at the news conference.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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