THE BLOG

Drug Treatment Court Teams Operate in Secret

04/02/2015 10:49 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015

Legislators, advocates and the public view drug treatment courts as an innovative approach to drug and alcohol misuse and a solution to reducing the incarceration rate of nonviolent drug offenders. Government officials as well as medical professionals promote it's use and claim that drug courts work; yet no one has reviewed how the treatment teams make their decisions or the validity of the programs that drug court participants are referred to. There is no transparency and little over site of a drug courts day to day operations.

My son passed away in 2012 and was a participant in a New York drug treatment court outside of New York City. Since his death, I have been petitioning the court, the treatment team, and all agencies for any and all documents concerning my son. I want to know how all decisions where made. I want to know how the drug treatment team chose programs and what medical standards they were following. One would think that the New York Freedom of Information Law , (FOIL)
would make this easy; after all, we are the parents of a son that died while under their watch. But after almost three years of jumping through hoops, I do not have one single notation from the drug treatment team.

Proponents of drug treatment court praise treatment teams for their expertise in helping participants with their lives; they guide individuals to agencies for housing and work, place them in rehab facilities that meet their needs and monitor progress and advise the court on successful participation goals. The teams consist of counselors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers and others. They interface with rehab facilities, insurance companies, addiction specialists, parents and family members. The team reads weekly journals, drug test results, and work histories of participants, as well as doctor's and school reports. They ask questions about participant's private lives, comment on family issues and romantic relationships and report all of this to the court. The treatment team meets regularly to discuss participants and make recommendations to the court. The judge uses these team recommendations in his decision-making. Certainly, these treatment teams must keep notes and documentation on all of their cases?

After drug treatment court contracts are signed, drug court participants have no choice over their medical care; the court and drug treatment teams make treatment recommendations and are responsible for placement decisions. They present their findings to the judge and the judge and prosecuting attorney authorize the specific treatment method. Public defenders sit in silent agreement.

At this time drug treatment team notes in New York do not fall under the freedom of information law. Drug treatment team notes are considered medical and private team notes and fall under NY HIPAA Laws.

I have all of my son's medical records from the day he was born to the day he died and yet as of this date the drug treatment court team notes are unavailable. These treatment team notes are needed to establish errors in care and negligence of treatment team staff. I will continue to pursue these records.

Drug treatment courts profess that they are effective at solving this nation's drug and alcohol issues and make claims of successful medical treatment options, yet the courts make access to the treatment teams decision making process difficult to unveil. Participants in drug treatment court should have ready access to their court transcripts, medical records, drug test results, probation notes as well as all treatment team notes in a cost effective and timely fashion.

Drug court participants should regularly check documentation by the treatment team for medical and documentation errors. Just like private individuals have easy access to their medical records, drug court participants should have easy access to the drug court treatment team notes and public defenders meetings. Denied treatment recommendations may have injured your loved one or yet no one in the court will claim liability.

I am not the only one to question the drug court treatment recommendations; other parents are starting to ask questions and threaten wrongful death suits.
They want to know why the court's recommended treatment may have killed their son. They question why decisions were made and how treatment teams came to their conclusions. They want to understand how non-medical court judges and lawyers can make medical decisions. They too want to know how drug treatment court teams can operate in secret, behind closed doors with no over site.

We must continue to question the treatment decisions made for the thousands of participants in drug treatment courts around the United States. Medical advocates should continue to ask what medical protocols are followed, how treatment decisions are made and monitor that treatment is appropriate and meet standards of care. We must document what information is relayed to the judge and district attorneys while in team meetings. We must understand who is accountable and liable and hold them responsible for individual placement decisions, injury and death under their watch.

It should not take a death to access the documents and secret decision making of drug treatment court meetings. They are making life and death decisions with no liability.

List of possible documents too review:
Death certificate
Autopsy report
EMS and Police report
All medical records from any treatment or hospital and doctor/psychiatrist/nurse
List of all medications and prescribing doctor
Probation records
Urine tests and name of testing info
All court documents
Court transcripts as well as all certificates of progress
All written letters to court and weekly diary notes
Treatment team notes, evaluations and decision making from every member
Treatment team education levels and certificate information
Treatment team emails concerning participant
Treatment team discussions with all rehab, insurance and placement providers
Any and all AA meeting sites, times and meeting type
All evaluations, intake forms and photos
Arrest reports and all court forms
Jail or prison records including all nurse visits, observations and visitors
Names of prison officials and transport officials
Names of secondary contractors for prison
Names of all rehab and treatment facilities aligned with the court
Public defender records and meeting dates
Attorney records, emails and meeting times
Participation agreement and all instructional materials
Contract agreement and signature date
Any insurance information and payment documentation

PLEASE SEEK LEGAL ADVICE.