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Drug Policy, Substance Use Disorder and Best Practices for Working with Addicted Clients

Thursday, September 19, 2019 @ 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Substance Use, Addiction, Criminal Justice System, Opioids

Drug addiction – i.e. severe substance use disorder – has long been viewed in America as a moral failing, a character flaw that can be punished into submission. For the last century, our nation’s laws have attempted to curb drug use and addiction through the criminal justice system and other policies that take away the rights of people who are addicted and continue to use. Instead of reducing drug use, these punitive policies have directly created mass incarceration, destroyed communities, and propelled the nation’s addiction crisis.

Participants will learn common misperceptions about addiction and recovery, and to how to more effectively work with addicted clients. This workshop will examine drug policies and how the criminalization of drug use has stigmatized an illness, limited access to treatment, and overburdened our criminal justice system. The presenters will provide an overview of addiction science, the recovery process, and evidence-based treatment, as well barriers to effective treatment. The connection between addiction and trauma will be discussed, including how various systems oppress and punish addicted people along economic and racial lines. With these concepts in mind, the workshop will examine why punitive sanctions are ineffective at stopping an illness that is defined by “continued use despite negative consequences.”

Attorney Newman-Polk will outline her innovative litigation in criminal cases involving drug addiction, and her legislative efforts to reform the criminal justice system’s approach to probationers who relapse. Sarah Coughlin will share on-the-ground experience as an addiction specialist directing a community coalition in Charlestown. Each presenter has over a decade of experience working with hundreds of individuals addicted and caught up in the criminal justice system.

  • Participants will learn how common misperceptions about addiction (combined with systemic racism) underlie our drug laws, and how these laws have criminalized people, in turn creating mass incarceration and intensifying the addiction crisis;
  • Participants will learn the current science of addiction, the recovery process, and effective treatment approaches;
  • Participants will explore how to integrate the current science of addiction into their practices; and
  • Participants will learn about innovative legal and legislative efforts to decriminalize addiction.

This workshop is designed for social workers, advocates, mental health providers, nurses, lawyers, judges, probation and parole officers, and other professionals who want to deepen their understanding of the interface of addiction and the criminal justice system. Workshop format will include lecture, media, interactive case examples, and discussion.

About the Speakers:

Sarah B. Coughlin, LICSW, LADC-I is a licensed clinical social worker, alcohol and drug counselor and certified recovery coach supervisor in MA. She works for Massachusetts General Hospital overseeing a community coalition in Charlestown aimed at addressing social determinants of health. She has extensive experience treating multi-stressed clients and families in a variety of settings including, community-based, police stations, drug courts, residential, acute care facilities, jails and prisons. She is a vendor for the MA Committee for Public Counsel Services where she provides comprehensive assessments and evaluations to assist attorneys with the defense of juvenile and adult clients. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Social Workers – MA, as the President-Elect and previously chaired the Criminal Justice and Addictions Committees. She is a zealous advocate for criminal justice reform and health equity.

Lisa Newman-Polk, Esq. LCSW, is an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform as it relates to the “war on drugs” and prison reform. She received national attention for the case, Commonwealth v. Eldred, in which she argued that it is unconstitutional to order a probationer with substance use disorder to be drug-free and then incarcerate the person for relapse. Lisa began her legal career as a law clerk for the Montana Supreme Court. In 2006, she joined the Massachusetts Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services as a staff attorney where she represented hundreds of people in district and superior courts on misdemeanor and felony charges. Dismayed by the overwhelming number of individuals prosecuted in the criminal justice system who suffer from traumatic childhoods and mental health disorders (e.g. substance use disorder), she decided to pursue a career in clinical social work, earning a master’s degree from Boston College. As a clinician, Lisa worked as an outpatient therapist providing addiction treatment to men and women on probation and parole, and then as a mental health clinician at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, the men’s maximum-security prison in Massachusetts. In 2014, she returned to the practice of law, applying her clinical experience to her legal advocacy in the district courts and drug courts. Today her law practice primarily focuses on special litigation in criminal cases involving drug addiction and representing juvenile lifers at parole hearings. She has written amicus briefs on behalf of organizations in important appellate cases addressing addiction and criminal law. She is on the Board of Directors for Massachusetts Prisoners’ Legal Services and an active member of the National Association of Social Workers. Lisa earned a B.A. from Columbia University, a J.D. from the University of Montana School of Law, and an M.S.W. from Boston College.


Thursday, September 19, 2019
9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Event Category:


Bridgewell Headquarters
10 Dearborn Road
Peabody,MA01960United States
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