“Everyone needs to know this.” District Judge Andrea Duffy to host Drug Addiction Resource Alliance forum

The November 19th event at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale aims to shed light on the local effects of the opioid epidemic.


Submitted Photo

Judge Andrea Duffy speaks a DARA (Drug Addiction Resource Alliance) forum. Her goal is to ensure that defendants in her court struggling with substance abuse are able to get the help they need.

MONTGOMERY TOWNSHIP – Andrea Hudak Duffy is the polar opposite of a drug addict. In fact, she spends most of her time seated on a bench above them, gavel in hand, disheartened by the constant failures of a system purportedly designed to eradicate their disease and improve their lives.

So she did something about it.

“If addiction hasn’t affected you or your family yet- [well], statistically, it probably has, and maybe you’re not aware of it,” observed the district judge. Duffy started DARA (Drug Addiction Resource Alliance) in 2016 as a way to bring defendants struggling with addiction directly “from the bench to treatment,” she explained. 

“[Drug addiction] can happen to anyone,” Duffy emphasized. From the streets of Philly to the manicured sidewalks of suburbia, her experience as a district attorney and judge, as well as a defense attorney and victim’s advocate, imbued her with the knowledge that there is no singular path to addiction, nor is there a one-size-fits-all method for recovery. Duffy began to grasp the extent of the opioid epidemic’s foothold in Pennsylvania after defendants with substance abuse disorder, summoned by mail, regularly failed to show up in court. A bit of detective work confirmed the grim reality she had already suspected – lacking prospects and supervision, they often relapsed between hearings, in some cases overdosing within days of their release.

Duffy’s goal is to ensure that every person in her courtroom struggling with addiction, regardless of circumstance, has access to resources that may be the difference between a fatal overdose and a healthy, productive life. She regularly juggles a gavel in one hand and a phone in the other, interrupting hearings to contact rehabilitation and mental health facilities for willing defendants in lieu of assigning jail time. By all accounts, DARA has been a smashing success; since its inception, the program has hosted multiple forums to educate the community about drug abuse in addition to connecting people to the help that they need. But despite these triumphs, the judge wasn’t content to simply continue watching from the courtroom.

Submitted Photo
A memento shown to Duffy by an active participant of the DARA program.

In 2017, Duffy personally ventured into the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, a notorious hub of the opioid epidemic also known for its large homeless population (many of whom are addicted to drugs). When recounting the situation, one word came to mind immediately: “sickening.”

She described those struggling with addiction, while “living in squalor,” as nonchalant; forgoing ordinary facets of life in the pursuit of a high was simply “their way of existing,” explained Duffy. She returned multiple times, accompanied by the Philadelphia Police Department on some occasions, and on others, joined volunteers distributing “blessing bags” filled with hygiene products such as toothbrushes and soap.

The takeaway, Duffy said, is that addiction is pervasive. Even in the affluent bubble of Montgomery Township, drugs flowing from the “major drug corridor” of 309 often feed the addictions of those who have become chemically dependent on prescription painkillers, but can no longer obtain a prescription.

According to Duffy, what is the most important thing for teens to understand about substance abuse?

“You never know what you’re buying, and you never know what you’re ingesting. To me, that’s the scariest part,” she stated. Furthermore, she explained how common street drugs (such as marijuana) may be laced with fentanyl and can change the brain’s chemistry after just one use, creating an instant addiction.

To combat the fear, stigma, and misinformation associated with the opioid epidemic, DARA is hosting a forum on Tuesday, November 19th, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale. Beginning at 6:00pm, attendees will be able to meet with representatives from recovery centers, the district attorney’s office, and other community organizations. At 7:00pm, the Philadelphia Police Department will present Heads-up, a program designed to convey the reality of the opioid epidemic to teenagers. An individual in recovery plans to share their story, and free naloxone (an overdose-reversal medication) and training on how to use it will be provided.

The forum will be filled with “warmth and support,” as one of DARA’s primary goals is to reduce the stigma associated with addiction. But this event isn’t only for those currently affected by substance abuse disorder; Duffy is adamant that the entire community can benefit from a more thorough understanding of the opioid epidemic.

“Teens need to know this,” Duffy concluded. “Everyone needs to know this.”

District Judge Andrea Duffy’s Drug Addiction Resource Alliance will be hosting a forum from 6-8:30pm on Tuesday, November 19th at Trinity Lutheran Church (1000 West Main Street, Lansdale, PA). All are welcome and encouraged to attend.