Drug courts provide the necessary tools to hold individuals accountable, while also providing numerous and individualized resources.  According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, “Drug Courts are the most effective justice intervention for treating drug-addicted people. Drug Courts reduce drug use. Drug Courts reduce crime. Drug Courts save money. Drug Courts restore lives. Drug Courts save children and reunite families….To truly break the cycle of drugs and crime in America, we must put a Drug Court within reach of every American in need.”


Addiction is now largely identified and understood as a brain disease. As we begin to understand addiction as a disease, society must change the way that it treats addicts. Criminalizing the behavior, or ignoring it, will not end the opiate epidemic. To address a deadly disease, one needs a team of experts and a treatment plan. To ensure that the sick adheres to the treatment plan, the judicial system provides accountability.


Substance abuse has reeked havoc in our cities big and small. It affects the deep and shallow pockets of families, hospitals and medical systems, police force, correctional institutions, justice system, schools, social service providers, children’s service, and public assistance.
Together, collectively, we must address this epidemic. Lives Back operates out of the foundational belief that Drug Courts are the nation’s #1 resource in creating partnerships that effectively address substance abuse, restore lives, and repair communities.  No one is just a heroin addict. They are a father, mother, child, friend, citizen. And they deserve a chance to have their lives back.


In 2013, the United States Justice Department announced a new directive to modernize the criminal justice system entitled “Smart on crime,” -a deliberate shift away from the previous terminology “tough on crime.” The policy included reforms that encouraged alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, “such as drug courts, specialty courts, or other diversion programs.” The criminal justice system, across the nation, from top down, is modernizing – seeking effective alternatives.
There is abundant evidence that drug courts do indeed work. They effectively treat addiction, while simultaneously reducing our jail and prison populations, save the taxpayers money, reduce recidivism, and restore contributing citizens back to society.
Specific statistics in regards to the amount of savings or the number of rearrests differs per drug court. However, in 2011, the Urban Institute wrapped up a five-year study of 23 drug courts and six comparison jurisdictions in eight states, and concluded that drug courts did reduce the number of crimes, re-arrests, and the overall time that offenders spent incarcerated in those jurisdictions. The study also found that “drug courts save an average of $5,680 per participant, returning a net benefit of $2 for every $1 spent.” Those numbers are merely immediate cost savings and do not include the exponential savings of reduced recidivism, increased education, gainful employment, and family reunification.


Lives Back was birthed from the passion of retired Judge Scott D. VanDerKarr. After creating and presiding over the largest Drug Court in the state of Ohio, Judge VanDerKarr stepped off the bench in 2015 to fight substance abuse from multiple fronts – with his overarching goal – to put a drug court in every county in Ohio.  That other communities, cities, and towns could gain from what he learned (both successes and failures) presiding over drug courts and that the addicted citizens and their families, those fighting an ugly disease could find dignity, treatment, and ultimately recovery.