Courts have an important role in combating opioid use disorder

On April 24th, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued a proclamation declaring July 2019 to be Opioid Awareness Month within the State Court System. Chief Justice Canady stated: “It is incumbent upon judges and court staff members, particularly those serving in problem-solving courts and family courts, to understand the basics of addiction and its impact on the brain, the standard for treatment of opioid use disorder, and legal implications and court responses to individuals with this disorder.”

The need for education and awareness is clear; Florida is experiencing an opioid crisis. We know that this epidemic is more than a public health issue. The Courts have a frontline view of the devastating impact that the opioid epidemic is having on our State, destroying futures and families. At some point, most people with opioid use disorder end up in court. Perhaps they have been arrested for stealing to feed their habit or been deemed unfit parents. Whatever the reason, the justice system is now the primary referral source for addiction treatment in the country. Whether in a criminal court, family court or problem solving court, the Courts have a role in combating this crisis, ensuring that people with opioid use disorder get the treatment they need.

To provide more treatment in the justice system, federal and state opioid task force groups have recommended more problem-solving courts. The Fourteenth Judicial Circuit is fortunate to have drug courts in each county, as well as other problem-solving courts such as mental health and veteran treatment courts. These courts link participants with treatment and provide Court oversight with treatment and recovery teams. The Court and team members are dedicated to crafting responses and solutions that are required to combat this serious and complicated epidemic.

Currently, the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder combines medication with behavioral therapies. Aside from the clinical effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), it also allows for patients to regain a sense of normalcy and functionality in their lives by often decreasing criminal activity associated with substance use disorders, increases the ability to secure and maintain employment, and even improves birth outcomes for women who have opioid use disorder while pregnant.

The Courts are working to combat Florida’s opioid crisis. When court-involved citizens have access to effective treatment, it stops the cycle of criminal activity and the destruction of families. If you or someone you know needs help, please refer to the websites: www.isavefl.com and www.doseofreality.com.