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NUWAY’s Successful Collaboration with Minnesota Treatment Courts Provides Model amid National Addiction Crisis

Scales of justice

In 2018, the Ramsey County District Court in Minnesota received a five-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant for almost $2 million to enhance and expand substance abuse treatment services in its four treatment courts.

NUWAY, one of Minnesota’s largest non-profit co-occurring addiction and mental health treatment providers, was awarded the contract by the court to provide substance use disorder services mandated by the federal grant. NUWAY’s evidence-based treatment capabilities, advocacy for the rights of people with low recovery-capital, and commitment to building recovery-supportive environments played a role in its selection.

The grant has been used to add two treatment-focused positions at NUWAY—a behavioral health assessor, and a clinical liaison. The grant also provides for trauma screening and treatment for court referrals, and certified peer recovery specialists to help treatment court participants support recovery and long-term sobriety.

NUWAY’s Amelia de la O-Peterson is the behavioral health assessor assigned to work with the four treatment courts in Ramsey County—the Adult Drug Court, the DWI Court, the Veterans Court, and the Mental Health Court. “My position allows me to assess clients in all four courts and then determine the appropriate level of care for them,” says de la O-Peterson. “This prevents clients from sitting in jail for an unnecessarily long time. Instead, they quickly join a treatment program that puts them on the path of rehabilitation.”

Treatment courts are one of the most successful interventions for leading people with substance use and mental health disorders out of the justice system and into lives of recovery and stability. Treatment courts promote recovery through a coordinated team approach, including cooperation and collaboration of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, defense counsels, probation authorities, and treatment providers, such as NUWAY.

NUWAY’s involvement in the Ramsey County treatment court system has made this approach highly efficient and may serve as a model for other districts across the nation. In this groundbreaking setup, NUWAY’s Amelia de la O-Peterson functions as a crucial connector between the authorities, clients, and addiction treatment teams. She helps clients with insurance questions, finding quality recovery housing, and peer support. In addition to the behavioral health assessor, NUWAY’s clinical liaison Tayler Kahlow is making sure the efforts of all departments involved are well coordinated. “Communication is one of the most important parts of this work,” says Kahlow. “Judges, probation officers, and lawyers don’t have the time or training to ensure that drug court participants are adhering to the program and getting the services and support they need. That’s where we can help.”

Efficient collaboration between an experienced treatment provider like NUWAY and Minnesota’s treatment courts allows the state to continue its innovative work to combat the current addiction crisis more effectively. Research shows that treatment court systems reduce recidivism, which helps people with substance use disorder recover while simultaneously enhancing public safety.

The partnership between the Ramsey County Treatment Court system and NUWAY provides an opportunity to change a dated narrative about the disease of addiction and crime. “Some people might be surprised to learn that members of our judicial system are the staunchest advocates for the rights of people with addiction and mental health disorders and are passionate about getting them the care they need. Many of the people who come to treatment court are there for offenses stemming from addiction and its symptoms. Many have experienced a great deal of trauma, especially as children. Many are housing insecure. And many have simply not gotten the help and support they need to stop the damaging cycle of addiction and incarceration,” says Kahlow. “Diverting people from incarceration to treatment is good for individuals, families, and society as a whole.”

“Model Treatment Courts are an evidence-based best practice. NUWAY is excited to add Ramsey County to our existing participation with other treatment courts in Hennepin and Dakota Counties,” says Chief Community Relations Officer, Monique Bourgeois.