What is Drug Diversion?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 04 March 2020
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Drug diversion programs are frequently used as an alternative to incarceration for defendants charged or convicted of drug possession. The philosophy behind these programs is to address the underlying addiction problems that cause many people to end up charged with drug possession, in the hope that they will not re-offend. Programs vary by jurisdiction; however, in many instances, successful completion of a drug diversion program will also prevent a conviction on the defendant's permanent record.

Although possession of illegal drugs is a crime, many jurisdictions have decided to focus on the root causes of the problem by creating drug diversion programs instead of simply punishing offenders. By attempting to rehabilitate addicts, drug diversion programs contribute to solving one of societies' largest problems. From a practical standpoint, rehabilitating addicts also saves the government money in the long run.

Most drug diversion programs only allow drug users, not drug traffickers, to participate. Selection criteria is determined by the individual court, but likely includes a review of the offender's criminal and personal history and consideration of the facts of the instant case. Most programs will not accept violent offenders or offenders with a lengthy criminal history. Preference is frequently given to offenders who have never had the opportunity to participate in a drug rehabilitation program. If the facts of the case show that the offender may actually be a dealer, even if he or she was not charged with dealing, then acceptance into a drug diversion program is unlikely.


A participant will likely be required to complete an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment program as well as remain drug-free for an extended period of time. The length of time the offender has had a drug problem and the drug of choice will be considered when determining the intensity of the treatment required. Participants are also closely monitored by the court and tested on a regular basis for drug use. Additional requirements, such as obtaining employment or continuing in school, may also be conditions of the program.

In many cases, a drug diversion program will take a year or more to complete. The court, understandably, wants to see a lengthy pattern of abstinence and cooperation by the participant before declaring success. While the offender is participating in the program, his or her charges may still be considered pending in the court. Failure to complete the program will cause the court to revisit the pending criminal charges. If a participant successfully completes the drug diversion program, however, then his or her criminal charges may be reduced or dismissed altogether.


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