Opioid Addiction Tackled in First-Ever Regional Summit
To kick off of a nine-state joint effort to combat “the scourge of opioid addiction,” Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor declared that regional cooperation “will be critical in this battle that we cannot afford to lose.”
“Our region’s judicial leaders have an especially important role to play,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “In fact, I would argue we have no choice but to step up.”
The Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative Opening Summit, initiated by the Supreme Court and the first of its kind, took place over three days last week in Cincinnati and brought together judges, criminal justice officers, public health experts, and addiction specialists from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania, as well as the federal government.
As the attendees labored in a workshop setting, the problem they’re committed to end raged in their states back home and on the streets of the host city. Health officials in Cincinnati responded to more than 100 drug poisonings and overdoses, three of them fatal, while the conference was being held and spikes of opioid poisoning hit the national news from Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
The Ohio Department of Health issued a gloomy drug abuse death report last week that said deaths from the opioid fentanyl rose from 84 in 2013 to 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015.
“It is a problem that respects no borders, no boundaries, and no political concepts of who should be responsible for addressing this problem,” Chief Justice O’Connor told the delegates. “Solving the opioid crisis that continues to grow in our communities rests with each of us and all of us.”
The conference was designed to be a problem-solving first step in a year-long effort to knock down institutional silos and thinking and to establish a mindset of regional sharing – of ideas and solutions.
“A cross-section of all three branches of government and our partners in the private sector must join forces to tackle this problem head-on,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.
Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton, who said an average of four people a day in his state die of opioid abuse, told the delegates that the epidemic “is devastating the lives of addicts and those who love them.”
“It is flooding our emergency rooms, our courts, our prisons, our child welfare systems, and our treatment providers. It is taking an emotional toll on our families and our communities,” Chief Justice Minton said.
Chief Justice O’Connor declared that “the government’s response must jettison traditional notions of how government works and think outside the box,” a theme that Ohio Gov. John Kasich captured in a luncheon address on Day 2 of the conference.
”If you take a non-violent drug offender, the last thing you want to do is put them in a penitentiary,” Kasich said. “It would be great to keep them in their local community.” Kasich then noted that many addicts live in areas where help is scarce, an issue for governments to address.
During the next 12 months, the delegates and the departments they represent will share information from their own programs and establish regional policy planning and development across their criminal justice, public health, family support, medical, and behavioral systems.
“Ideas gleaned this week from our regional partners will be critical in a battle that we cannot afford to lose,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. At the close of the conference, the Ohio chief justice told the delegates that “the collaboration here was phenomenal,” and added: “I want to thank you for the hard work so far and the hard work that’s yet to come.”
“This is a first-of-its-kind summit,” she said. “Let’s make sure it’s not the last of its kind.”