Greensburg Daily News
By Kevin Green
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — With 120 Americans dying every day from opioid overdoses, a national group of state court judges is recommending expanding treatment options and creating specialized courts to deal with the crisis.
The National Judicial Opioid Task Force, co-chaired by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush, released a report Wednesday with findings from a two year study that included recommendations on how state courts should deal with the opioid addiction epidemic. (The full report can be reviewed and downloaded below.)
The study found that the daily death toll from opioids in 2018 was worse than the daily deaths from the Vietnam War. In Indiana in 2017, the last year for which data is available, there were more than 1,000 opioid deaths.
Rush chaired the task force with Deborah Taylor Tate, Tennessee’s director of courts, leading 34 state court leaders from 24 states on the National Judicial Opioid Task Force.
The misuse of opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain medications is not only a devastating public health crisis, it is critically affecting the administration of justice in courthouses throughout the United States,” Rush said in a news release. “It’s crucial that judges are involved in reversing this epidemic.”
The task force was established in 2017 and over the past two years has developed practical information, educational resources, tools and best practice recommendations for state court judges, court administrators and numerous partners and stakeholders.
Some of the key findings include that there is a lack of education about medication-based treatments; that the addiction crisis has a significant impact on children and families; state courts need to become partners in dealing with the crisis; and state courts need to design programs and resources that will respond to all addiction crises.
The report says that the epidemic is more than a criminal justice issue and notes that one of the most prevalent issues nationwide is the impact on child welfare. The report shows a spike in foster care rates in recent years as a result of parents losing their rights because of opioid abuse.
For years, the justice system knew how to be ‘tough on drugs,’ now is the time for us to become ‘smart’ on drugs,” Tate said in the release.
The task force reported, “Courts should address the opioid epidemic from a “public health” model, recognizing that the problem and potential solutions cut across traditional lines of responsibility for government agencies and academic disciplines and require the direct engagement of the public for a successful response.”
Other recommendations note the need for judicial leadership in bringing together government and community stakeholders at the local, state and regional level and in fostering collaboration among federal courts, child welfare agencies and tribal courts.
It was also suggested that “Opioid Intervention Courts” be used nationwide as well as the use of parent partners who would help those involved with the child welfare system.
A national judicial training and model curriculum was proposed for judges in every state. The training would help judges continue their education specifically on the science of brain disorders, the impact of adverse childhood experiences, secondary trauma, identifying signs of Opioid Use Disorder, risks upon release of incarceration or from the ER, and risks of exposure to fentanyl, carfentanyl and their analogs.
The need for funding was addressed in the report, including resources for high-speed wireless internet access in areas without it and money to facilitate data collection related to the opioid crisis.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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