Should Relapse Alone be Cause for Broken Probation? We Don’t Think So

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a person with a substance use disorder may be jailed for relapsing while on probation. In a unanimous vote, the state’s highest court deemed relapse, a normal part of the recovery process, an official violation of probation.

“Such decisions should be made thoughtfully and carefully, recognizing that addiction is a status that may not be criminalized,” said Justice David A. Lowy at the ruling. “But judges cannot ignore the fact that relapse is dangerous for the person who may be in the throes of addiction and, often times, for the community in which that person lives.”

The ruling follows a case involving 36-year old Julie Eldrid, who in 2016 was jailed for testing positive for fentanyl while on probation. Eldrid has struggled with addiction since she was a teenager and sued the court for violating her constitutional rights by ordering her to remain sober, something that many people with substance use disorders struggle with.

As an addiction treatment provider with nearly 50 years of experience, we believe that this adds to the harmful stigma around addiction – treating it like a crime, rather than a disease.

People in active recovery are typically engaged in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs. When incarcerated, most people lose access to those medications. This causes painful withdrawal symptoms and makes the chance for relapse exponentially higher upon release.

This ruling is dangerous and does nothing to aide in combatting the opioid epidemic.

“We’re not expecting that everybody who has a relapse is going to have the judge look the other way and not assert some kind of consequence on them,” said our CEO, Kurt Isaacson to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. “There should be a consequence. But the consequence may be that they go to a different level of treatment.”

To learn more about why relapse is not a failure, give our experts at Spectrum Health Systems and the New England Recovery Center a call anytime at (800) 366-7732.

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