What is Drug Treatment Court?

In 2016, Philadelphia was second only to Allegheny, Pennsylvania for the highest rate of drug overdose deaths among counties with at least one million residents. In Pennsylvania in 2017, there were more than 5,400 fatal drug overdoses. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh consistently have the “most pure and inexpensive” heroin in the U.S.

Philadelphia has been a leader in the implementation of alternative sentencing and diversionary programs. Some of these initiatives include the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program, Domestic Violence Diversion Program, Project Dawn Court, Future Forward Program, and others. These are all managed within the Diversion Courts Unit.

Philadelphia Drug Treatment Count

Philadelphia was the first county in Pennsylvania to implement a Drug Court and celebrated its 20th year in operation in 2017. It was implemented in response to the tremendous amount of drug abuse and drug-related crime. The traditional criminal justice process has shown to be largely ineffective in rehabilitating drug offenders.

In 2018, it was determined that 3,203 offenders had “graduated” of the Philadelphia Drug Court since its inception. In 2017, 139 individuals completed the program. Among these individuals, roughly 92% had not been convicted of a subsequent crime after one year.

Philadelphia Drug Court Eligibility and Disposition


Eligible defendants are those with non-violent drug-related offenses. They may not have more than two prior criminal convictions as an adult. Those with serious charges that include firearms are not eligible. When entering the program, the defendant will submit a plea of “no contest” and the criminal proceedings are placed on hold.

Program Details

The process spans a 12-month period that is divided into four phases. All participants are subject to urine drug screening to test for drugs and/or alcohol. There is a monthly meeting with a judge that is assigned with supervision and continuous drug treatment. Minor violations or failures to comply may lead to sanctions that include short stays in jail, remedial programming, writing essays, and others.

Phases of Philadelphia Drug Court

  • Phase 1: This one-month phase begins with the defendant undergoing an assessment to determine the best course of treatment. Some individuals are classified as needing “dual diagnosis” treatment. This refers to those struggling with both substance abuse and mental health concerns. The participant's housing situation is evaluated to ensure the environment is conducive to treatment.
  • Phase 2: A three-month period that is considered intensive. Activities include therapy (counseling) and training for improving life skills.
  • Phase 3: A fourth-month period that seeks to avoid any potential relapse. Preparations begin to develop an aftercare plan. Aftercare is a continued transition toward sobriety and participation in a 12-step program. Building the support structure is emphasized by acquiring a sponsor and a network of sober acquaintances.
  • Phase 4: Another fourth-month period where the defendant will demonstrate the ability to abstain from all drugs and alcohol. Those who fail to maintain their treatment, such as by missing sessions, may have this phase extended.

Completion and Expungement

After completing the four phases the offender “graduates.” The original plea of no contest on the criminal charge is withdrawn and the charges are dropped. The defendant must continue their sobriety for one additional year to then have all details of the arrested removed (expunged).

Aggressive Legal Representation for Drug Cases in Philadelphia

Were you recently arrested for committing a drug-related offense? It is very important that you promptly consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney regarding your legal defense. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (215) 535-5353.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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