After criminal convictions, many people with substance use disorder are placed on probation with the condition they remain completely drug-free. They are often jailed when they relapse, setting back recovery and removing them from treatment that helps keep them clean. Is that fair, when relapse is a common symptom of their disease (and many others)?
Julie Eldred was one of these people. In 2016, she was struggling with opioid use disorder and on probation for a larceny charge. When Eldred’s drug screen came back positive for fentanyl, she ended up in jail.
Two years later, Commonwealth v. Eldred is heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Before the state’s highest court, Eldred’s attorneys argued her relapse should be classified as a symptom of her substance use disorder. Therefore, they argued, it was not a willful violation of the drug-free condition of her probation.
But ultimately, the Court sides with the Commonwealth and upholds the constitutionality of the drug-free condition of probation, even for individuals with substance use disorder. But is criminalizing addiction really the answer?
This segment was written and produced by Trevor Zavagno.
- Lisa Newman-Polk, attorney and social worker, Ayer, MA
- Michael Botticelli, Executive Director, Grayken Center for Addiction, Boston Medical Center and former Director, National Drug Control Policy (“drug czar” during Obama Administration)
- Dr. Barbara Herbert, Immediate Past President, Massachusetts Society of Addiction Medicine
- Dr. Sally Satel, addiction psychiatrist and Lecturer, Yale University School of Medicine and Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute