01/08/2014 11:40 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2014

Drug Treatment Courts: 20 Years of Uncounted Deaths

My son was killed in 2012 by failed drug treatment court policies and poorly written 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Laws in NY. His death has been buried along with others in the files of the NY drug treatment court. As I now look back on 2013 I ask: How many other drug treatment court deaths are going uncounted? How many individuals were mistreated or abused in their court mandated treatment facility?

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) claim that drug treatment courts have been the most researched and successful of the criminal justice programs. They claim that for 20 years they have worked to reduce crime, end addiction and used meta-analyses to support their claims. But let us look at what has not been documented by the NADCP.

For over 20 years the National Association of Drug Court Professionals has not collected death rates from judges drug treatment court recommendations. For 20 years the NADCP has not collected mistreatment or abuse allegations from participants in court mandated treatment. Neither has the NADCP collected data on drug treatment team protocol or run data analysis on reasons of drug treatment failure rates. For over 20 years the NADCP has not done meta-analysis on this data because this data is not collected or documented within the drug court system. Meta-analysis can only analyze data that is actually collected.They have none.

In 2011 the Queens County District Attorney released reports of drug treatment counselors filing false progress reports.

In 2012 our local paper, LoHud reported about sexual abuse and payoffs in a recommended Rockland County rehab facility.

In 2013, Jake Bernstein of ProPublica reported of allegations of kickbacks and shoddy care at a recommended NY drug clinic.

NY is not alone in this type of news reporting. Recommended rehab facilities fare just as poorly in California.

As reported by Christina Jewett in 2012, a Senate panel lead by Senator Steinberg called the lax oversight by the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs into the deaths in recommended California rehab centers "disturbing."

Yet in Georgia, as of summer 2013 there were no state standards on how the 38 drug courts should even operate.

In their first gathering of statistics from Fulton County, Georgia in the fall of 2013, more than twice as many participants were kicked out or dropped out of the drug treatment court as those that graduated.

Why does the NADCP not have this data to analyze?

Like Georgia, most drug treatment courts do not keep records. And other drug treatment courts regularly destroy court transcripts and treatment records of those that are no longer involved in their care; that includes those that have died or failed at treatment. Treatment court teams make decisions without keeping detailed notes or records; furthermore these notes are not regularly reviewed or available through the freedom of information act. Even though the drug courts give training on court protocol, the public has no idea how these teams actually make decisions. It is suggested that drug treatment courts follow Best Practice Recommendations but without regular review, judges run their courts as they see fit.

The stigma of failure being the participant's fault is the philosophy that drives the destruction of records and the lack of documentation. The reason that participants fail is not viewed as important. Unless this documentation is demanded and counted, the NADCP will continue to mislead the public, mislead legislators and lawyers and mislead those that are in need of medical drug and alcohol treatment.

Not one drug treatment court forwards documents of death or mistreatment to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Drug treatment court medical recommendations, reprimands, sanctions and team advice are not open to review or liability. Practicing physicians are not involved in most drug court treatment teams so judges and district attorneys place participants where they see fit. Doctors may be libel when treating patients for their treatment mistakes, but judges, district attorneys and treatment teams playing doctor are not accountable to their drug court participants for their errors.

Individuals are being killed by judges and treatment teams practicing medicine in a field that even physicians and psychiatrists do not fully understand how to treat. Drug treatment courts operate under outdated abstinence programs and a judge's stigmatized view of the participant and preferred treatment facility. Judges mandate care to facilities that they favor; a favoritism that could be considered suspect.

Drug treatment courts and the NADCP have not kept enough documents over the years to probe deeper questions about death, mistreatment or failure of treatment. They recycle their statistics with new buzz words such as "evidence based" treatment programs using outdated drug and alcohol abstinence philosophy. They blame and stigmatize the participant because their so called "evidence based treatment" did not work.

Drug court supporters gloat about saving and changing lives of those with alcohol and drug addiction but they have such a media and marketing campaign behind them that many criminal justice innovators regularly do not ask detailed questions or fully investigate their claims. By not counting death and mistreatment records, drug court is viewed as the solution to the war on drugs, unjust mandated prison sentences, and racial disparity in sentencing. But all of those same claims apply to drug court: participants are selected along racial lines, participants are mandated to follow whatever the judge decides, choice of medical care is lost, and civil rights could be in question.

I am urging the judges and district attorneys to get out of the medical field and use your law degrees to correct the punitive drug and alcohol laws that you are so frustrated by. Advocate for your own drug court to release the death count of those entrusted into your care. Document those that have been mistreated and abused in your recommended treatment facility. Be accountable to the families for the placement of their loved ones into programs that are against harm reduction practices. In your zest to do good you have added more unjust laws and have forced outdated medical care on individuals that the medical field is just beginning to understand.

The continued stigmatization of those with drug and alcohol abuse have perpetuated a drug treatment court system that is hiding and destroying data that does not match the image of their marketing agents. Forgotten individuals that may have been killed by treatment recommendations go uncounted. The death and mistreatment of participants need to be documented under your watch.