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Opioids and the courts during a pandemic

July 15, 2020

According to a July report by the American Medical Association (AMA), over 30 states are reporting increases in opioid-related mortality. The spike in opioid-related deaths can be blamed on:

  • continued isolation as pandemic and social distancing requirements stretch well into the summer with no end in sight,
  • economic strife caused by widespread layoffs and furloughs,
  • and reduced access to familiar dealers and substances resulting in experimentation with unfamiliar drugs and their sources.

Making matters worse, drug treatment centers and programs have been forced to scale back during the shutdown. Some programs have reduced in person locations or gone online which can create hurdles for those who don’t have means for more distant services. For those like William Smith, an addict known for being one of the support staff on the VH1 show “Celebrity Rehab,” limited access to the internet can completely remove them from addiction support groups.

Problem solving courts, sometimes called drug courts, play a significant role in battling the opioid pandemic. The coronavirus has impacted these as well, requiring them to adapt while retaining programs proven successful in keeping addicts from being trapped in the judicial system revolving door.  In Maryland, drug treatment courts went digital, using Skype for Business to hold remote dockets, staff meetings, and graduations. Maryland case managers are also working remotely and keeping in close contact with those in the treatment program.

In Maine, District Court Judge Charles Budd has been using Zoom. The Penobscot County program has not removed anyone from the program during the pandemic even though there have been some relapses.  Internet access for some of the participants has also been a problem resulting in two senior participants buying a phone for a participant who did not have internet access.

The National Association for Drug Court Professionals developed a COVID-19 Resources Guide for drug treatment courts. Examples of how other courts are managing the pandemic, training programs, federal, state, and national resources are just a few of the tools and resources provided. Courts may find the Hot Topics Page particularly useful in navigating legal requirements for participants during a pandemic and how to manage compliance with social distancing.

For more information on the opioid pandemic please visit the National Center for State Court’s Opioid Task Force for the Final Report and Resources of the Opioid Task Force. NCSC is also proud to support the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative.

How has your court managed the opioid crisis during the coronavirus pandemic? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences!

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.