Healing Addiction in Universities: Drug Courts

Published on

Addiction has become a serious problem impacting many college students, which is why in 2020, the prevalence of any illegal drug use for college students was 46%, showing it is a serious problem that impacts college students (Johnston et al., 2020). To ensure college students are not punished but instead receive treatment, college campuses should implement drug courts (Huang, 2019). Drug courts are courts where those who have a substance abuse disorder have different sentences taking their addiction into account. They provide many different approaches to mandated rehabilitation instead of strictly prosecuting someone or incarcerating them (Rodriguez-Monguio et al., 2021).

Drug courts were first established in 1989 in Miami during the crack cocaine epidemic to decrease criminal recidivism rates of individuals who were charged for drug-related offenses (Marlow et al., 2016). People participate in this program based on severity of substance use disorder (moderate-to-severe), prior criminal history, and nature of most recent drug-related offense (Gallagher et al., 2021). When adult drug courts are utilized, they have been shown to reduce 2-year arrest rates significantly by an average of 8% to 14% (Marlowe et al., 2011). It is essential there is a focus on harm reduction and treating addiction instead of criminalizing it.


The current systems in place for most universities involve punishing students from the first offense. For instance, Northeastern University has deferred suspension from the university when students are caught possessing or consuming drugs other than alcohol and marijuana. If a student is caught with alcohol and marijuana, they face disciplinary probation. A second violation of possession of other drugs can lead to suspension from university along with a third violation of marijuana (Northeastern University Student Handbook, 2022). Outside of private universities, many public universities have similar policies. To exemplify, after the first drug offense in Rutgers University, the punishment is reprimand; the second offense is a reprimand, disciplinary probation after one year, and removal from university housing; the third offense is disciplinary suspension of one year along with a $200 fine; and the fourth offense is disciplinary expulsion (Rutgers University Student Policy, 2022). Harsh punishments in place for students who are suffering from drug addiction have resulted in a social stigma associated with substance abuse. 37% of college students fear seeking help due to the social stigma attached to substance abuse. Of students who are suffering from an addiction, only 6% have sought help (Califano, 2007).


Drug courts are more effective and more cost-effective when mental health and trauma-informed services are offered (Carey et al., 2012). Additionally, when the judges are more kind, drug courts lead to better outcomes as participants feel more respected and are less likely to use drugs again (Gallagher et al., 2022). However, the main issue is the degrading treatment and unfair practices that some drug courts utilize at the moment. When drug court officials do not treat inmates with respect, inmates resist working with the judge and court system (Dobmeier et al., 2020). In particular, women, especially women of color, are mistreated in drug courts as a study conducted with women participating in a drug court expressed feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness due to corrections officers and drug court officials mistreating due to their gender (Dobmeier et al., 2020). Therefore, to implement the most productive and effective drug court, an offering of mental health services such as counseling and kind judges by implementing a thorough screening process of the judges (Caret et al. 2012; Gallagher et al., 2022).


There have been college campuses that have implemented a drug court model. For instance, Colorado State University has a program called “Back On Trac (Treatment, Responsibility and Accountability On Campus)” similar to a drug court (Dutmers et al., 2017). When a student is caught with drugs, they are not suspended but instead can stay in school while participating in weekly meetings, treatment plans, case reviews, and drug testing. The results from this approach found that 70% of students who participated in this program throughout the years completed their undergraduate degree and recidivism was less than 40% (Dutmers et al., 2017). The University of Alabama’s campus drug court is another example of how to implement this model in college campuses. Starting in 2013, University of Alabama implemented a program called MPACT (Dutmers et al., 2017). MPACT has a campus drug court model that when a student is found for a drug or alcohol-related offense by the Office of Student Conduct will not be suspended as long as they complete MPACT where participants attend individual counseling, group sessions, and weekly drug testing. However, while this program may exist for college campuses, it does not exist for places outside of college campuses, which is why college students should be able to rely on their university for support even if they are not necessarily on campus. Students who are suffering from addiction may still get in trouble legally, resulting in the creation of the Second Chance Program. The goal of this program was for first-time, nonviolent offenders to get a second chance without a criminal record (Dutmers et al., 2017). The program has been successful with more than a 90% compliance rate from participants (Cosby Jr., 2022).


Addiction is a disease and when treated like one, people suffering from substance use disorder are more likely to seek treatment. Recovery is especially challenging for university students since they have to balance academics and recovery work. In a drug court model on campus, after a student has a sentence, they would be sent to a recovery program, which is what some colleges already implement. One study that surveyed first-year college students undergoing recovery found a common theme where participants knew that recovery was a priority but it slipped to a lower position on their list of priorities due to academics (Bell et al., 2010). Yet, recovery has been proven to be more manageable when there are collegiate recovery programs in place for students. One such program exists at Texas Tech University called the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery (CSAR). This center has existed since 1986 and provides scholarships for recovering students, 12-step meetings, academic support, individual counseling, social activities, and service activities. Students who have participated in this program feel more supported and believe they are less likely to use drugs again (Bell et al., 2010). This type of program currently only exists in some capacity at 287 college campuses in the United States (Canfield, 2021) compared to the nearly 4,000 degree-granted institutions in the U.S. (Moody et al., 2021).

However, there is a lack of accessibility to drug recovery programs. There are few drug recovery programs out there, which is why a study that surveyed 2,000 students throughout the U.S. found that most students gave their counseling and support resources a grade of D or F, including substance use disorder support (Ezarik, 2022). It is imperative that there continues to be more outreach and research to implement more recovery systems throughout college campuses along with the implementation of a drug-court like system, allowing all students to get an education.

Once drug courts are implemented on a college campus, a college campus should follow the footsteps of University of Alabama’s Second Chance and partner with legal enforcement (Dutmers et al., 2017). Therefore, it is essential to implement a combination of a drug court model, recovery programs, and a partnership with local legal systems to ensure students who are suffering from addiction do not get into legal or university trouble.


Bell, N. J., Kanitkar, K., Kerksiek, K. A., Watson, W., Das, A., Kostina-Ritchey, E., Russell, M. H., & Harris, K. (2009). "It has made college possible for me": feedback on the impact of a university-based center for students in recovery. Journal of American college health : J of ACH, 57(6), 650–657. https://doi.org/10.3200/JACH.57.6.650-658

Califano , J. A. (2007). Wasting the best and Brightest: Substance abuse at America's colleges and Universities. PsycEXTRA Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/e541142013-001

Canfield, K. (2022, September 9). 2021 Impact Report. Association of Recovery in Higher Education: ARHE. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://collegiaterecovery.org/

Carey, S. M. (2012). What works? The ten key components of drug court: Research-based best practices. Drug Court Review, 7(1), 6–42.

Cosby , G. (2022, November 28). District Attorney Revamps Second Chance Program For Non-Violent Offenders. The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved December 17, 2022, from https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/story/news/crime/2022/11/29/second-chance-program-tuscaloosa-revamps-for-non-violent-offenders/69654611007/

Dobmeier, R. A., Korni, S. K., Brown‐Smythe, C., Outland, R. L., Williams‐McGahee, P., LaDelfa, A. N., & White, J. (2020). Reentry as experienced by women in jail: Advocating for change. Adultspan Journal, 20(1), 29–46.  https://doi.org/10.1002/adsp.12104

Dutmers, J. M. (2017). Campus drug courts: how universities may be best equipped to tackle crime and substance abuse in young adults. Law and Psychology Review, 41, 191+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A500607956/AONE?u=ecl_main&sid=googleScholar&xi d=187b511f

Ezarik, M. (2022, April 20). Survey: Meeting student needs with campus mental health services. Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/04/20/survey-meeting-student-needs-campus -mental-health-services

Gallagher, J. R., Nordberg, A., Marlowe, D. B., Zongrone, C., & Szymanowski, S. (2021). A Qualitative Interpretive Meta-Synthesis (QIMS) of women’s experiences in Drug Court: Promoting Recovery in the Criminal Justice System. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 22(3), 212–232. https://doi.org/10.1080/1533256x.2021.1945870

Huang, J. (2019, April 8). Gavel, Scales of Justice Photo. iStock. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/gavel-scales-of-justice-gm1140995334-305512816 utm_source=pixabay&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=SRP_image_sponsored&utm_content =https%3A%2F%2Fpixabay.com%2 Fimages%2Fsearch%2Fdrug%2520court%2F&utm_term=drug%2Bcourt

Johnston, L., Miech, R., O'Malley, P., Bachman, J. G., Patrick, M. E., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2020). Monitoring the future National Survey results on drug use, 1975-2019: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. https://doi.org/10.3998/2027.42/162579

Marlowe, D. B. (2011). Evidence-Based Policies and Practices for Drug-Involved Offenders. The Prison Journal, 91(3_suppl), 27S-47S. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885511415223

Marlowe, D.B., Hardin, C.D., & Fox, C.L. (2016). Painting the current picture: A national report on drug courts and other problem-solving courts in the United States. Technical report. National Drug Court Institute (NADCP)

Moody, J. (2021, April 27). How many universities are in the U.S. and why that number is changing. U.S. News & World Report . Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-many-universities-are-in-t he-us-and-why-that-number-is-changing

Northeastern University Undergraduate Admissions. (2022). Undergraduate Student Handbook. Undergraduate Admissions. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from https://admissions.northeastern.edu/undergraduate-student-handbook/

Rodriguez‐Monguio, R., Montgomery, B., Drawbridge, D., Packer, I., & Vincent, G. M. (2021). Substance use treatment services utilization and outcomes among probationers in drug courts compared to a matched cohort of probationers in traditional courts. American Journal on Addictions., 30(5), 505–513. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajad.13208 Rutgers University Drug Policy. (2022). Rutgers University Policy Library. Rutgers University Policy Library |. Retrieved November 20, 2022, from https://policies.rutgers.edu/

More posts by Shana Soyfer.
Healing Addiction in Universities: Drug Courts
Twitter icon Facebook icon