Drug users on probation can be required to remain drug-free, court rules

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that it was not cruel and unusual punishment to put a person who is on probation in jail after one positive test for drugs.  Experts have been watching the case closely, as thousands of people who struggle with substance use disorder find themselves caught up in the nation’s judicial system amid the country’s opioid epidemic.

“The decision is a massive blow, and I believe, on the wrong side of history,” Lisa Newman-Polk, the attorney who represented the defendant in the case, said on Monday.

Substance use disorder occurs when a person’s use of drugs or alcohol leads to health issues or problems at work, school or home, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the guide mental health professionals use to label patient behavior. Relapse is often a part of the recovery process, studies show.

As a lawyer and a certified social worker with clinical experience treating addiction and other mental health disorders, Newman-Polk said before the decision she was “so frustrated, in effect, by what I saw was a misunderstanding by the judges that I was going before, who have this mistaken idea about the nature of substance use disorder and what actually helped someone get into recovery.

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