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Substance Abuse and Opioids

The growing epidemic of opioids has been declared a national emergency. Many experts say there is no immediate end in sight for this epidemic. It is critical that courts and communities are properly resourced and educated and collaborate to address this public health crisis.

Recognizing that juvenile and family courts are often the initial contact point for opioid abusers, and are critical partners in providing an opioid abuser with substance abuse treatment and support, it is vitally important that juvenile and family court judges be part of national and local conversations on how best to address the opioid epidemic.

Child Welfare
Approximately 208,000 children were removed from their homes in 2015 due to drug use by the parent/caretakers, accounting for about one-third of all removals. Although the data do not specify removal due to opioid abuse, the opioid epidemic is contributing to removals. Alarmingly high numbers of infants are born addicted to opioids due to maternal use, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). In 2012, it was estimated that every 25 minutes a baby was born with NAS, approximately 5.8 per 1,000 births, with some states reporting an excess of 30 per 1,000.

Juvenile Justice
Juveniles use opioids at a much lower rate compared to adults, however, there is a risk of dependency among older adolescents. Statistics reveal that between 1999 and 2015, the death rate for drug overdoses was highest for opioids among 15-19-year-old youth.

Family Violence
Researchers have examined the relationship between opioid dependence and intimate partner violence (IPV) and found that opioid-dependent fathers reported a greater prevalence of physical, sexual, and psychological aggression towards mothers.

Our Policy

The NCJFCJ provides leadership and assistance to juvenile and family court judges and personnel to navigate the ever-changing complexities of juvenile and family law matters.

Recommended Practices and Judicial Education for Judges

Judges should:

  • Request and receive training on:
    • the purpose of Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioids;
    • psychopharmacology, addiction, and substance abuse treatment;
    • the ramifications of opioid treatment on the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and reunification timelines;
    • adolescent development and the impact of substance abuse on the adolescent brain; and
    • gaps in services and needed funding to support the necessary resources and services.
  • Provide leadership on developing prevention and intervention protocols for opioid users.
  • Provide leadership to interrupt the illegal distribution pipeline for prescription opioids.
  • With training and an understanding of opioid addiction and treatment, make determinations regarding the best interests of the child in child abuse and neglect proceedings.
  • With training and an understanding of opioid addiction and treatment, interrupt the substance abuse cycle in young people.
  • Refer opioid users to appropriate substance abuse treatment and ensure treatment completion.
  • Advocate for prevention strategies with youth in school or community settings. Advocate for substance abuse treatment in detention and other secure settings.
  • Develop a community response team to include medical professionals and local public health departments.

Our Work

Juvenile Drug Treatment Information Center

The NCJFCJ’s Juvenile Drug Treatment Court training and technical assistance project works to improve outcomes for youth handled in juvenile drug courts across the country. The most requested assistance includes screening, referral, and acceptance processes; research on effective practices; targeted population and eligibility criteria; and adolescent development. Drug court teams develop action plans on issues such as targeting population, eligibility criteria, use of incentives and sanctions; team composition; and family engagement.