Often, addiction begins with a legitimate need for pain medicine. That original prescription for opioids can change a life, though. People who find themselves hooked may end up in the legal system facing drug charges.

Although South Carolina penalties for drug convictions are strict, many individuals may be eligible for a program that provides an alternative to a jail sentence—and a way to break the cycle of addiction.

The program

The Fifth Judicial Circuit Court system offers a drug court treatment program for people who have a history of using drugs and of drug crime convictions. Usually, a person’s attorney makes the referral, although a public defender or family member could also refer someone to the program. People who are eligible may even make a referral for themselves.

The program begins with intensive outpatient treatment, and this initial phase includes regular drug tests, court dates and group meetings in addition to the individual treatment plan. Participants must also show proof of employment. During subsequent phases, the treatment plans will change as participants make progress. Throughout the program, the judge, the drug court program manager and the treatment provider monitor participants closely.


There are a number of factors that disqualify people. Previous convictions for violent offenses, other pending charges, chronic mental illness or a history of dealing drugs may keep someone from participating.

Even if someone does qualify, it is very important to have legal counsel before entering the program, because the person must first enter a guilty plea. In some cases, it may be better for a person to fight the charges rather than admit guilt.


A person can expect to remain in the program for a minimum of 12 months. It may take longer to complete based on compliance with the program and sobriety. When participants graduate from drug court, they will receive a dismissal of their charges.