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Judicial system is changing views on drug treatment

February 6, 2019 GMT

HUNTINGTON — The judicial system is changing its views on medication-assisted treatment, perhaps nowhere as clearly as in child welfare cases, a Cabell County judge said Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Greg Howard said views about drug treatment have changed since the days when judges required parents to stop taking Suboxone in order to get their children back.

Howard said for years as an attorney he would have to tell his clients in those cases that they would have to stop using medication-assisted treatment.

“I will allow — and I can’t speak for every judge — but I know because I did kind of an informal survey with our local ones and they’re on board with this more and more,” Howard said. “I will allow people to remain on Suboxone or Vivitrol or whatever that is, if it’s working and they’re taking it properly, and still be able to get their children back through that process. So it’s not like it used to be.”


Howard’s comments came at a panel discussion about medication-assisted treatment on the campus of Marshall University. Howard joined Kim White, who teaches in the social work department; Stephen Young, a faculty member of the school’s criminology department; and Dr. Zach Hansen, of ProAct addiction treatment facility, for a panel discussion on medication-assisted drug treatment.

Howard said one drawback of using Vivitrol in medication-assisted treatment is that it alleviates cravings for drugs so well that people sometimes think they’re ready to stopping using Vivitrol before they’re ready. Howard said he has one person in the drug court program who’s relapsed after three months of medication-assisted treatment because he thought he was ready to stop taking it. Now, Howard said, he’ll have to cut him from the drug court program.

“It does such a good job that people say they’ve got this too soon when they really don’t,” Howard said. “That’s one negative that we can probably fix through education.”

Cabell County’s drug court, which has between 50 and 60 people, is the largest drug court program in West Virginia.

Howard said in recent years, judges are being taught that MAT is useful.

“More and more evidence is coming out,” Howard said. “It’s still coming out, so we’re learning every day, every month how to best use this in the criminal justice system.”

“More and more evidence is coming out. It’s still coming out, so we’re learning every day, every month how to best use this in the criminal justice system.”

Greg Howard

circuit judge of Cabell County