Lorri Montgomery
Director of Communications
National Center for State Courts

National state court leaders respond to opioid crisis

Williamsburg, VA (September 20, 2017)— The misuse of opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain medicines is not only a devastating public health crisis, it is critically affecting the administration of justice in courthouses throughout the United States. The number of children in foster care because of parental substance abuse has nearly tripled since 2012, and drug overdose deaths are at record highs.

In response to this national crisis, top state court leaders have formed a task force to find solutions, examine current efforts, and make recommendations to address the opioid epidemic’s ongoing impact on the justice system.

“The judiciary is deeply engaged in saving families—especially children—from this epidemic, yet we must step up even more,” said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who also is president of the national Conference of Chief Justices.

The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) is the association of the top judicial leaders from the 50 states, D.C., and the U.S. territories, and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) is the association of court executives that oversees judicial administration in the state courts. The two groups jointly adopted a policy resolution at the conclusion of their recent annual conference in Philadelphia to establish a task force that would document current inter-branch activities to address the opioid epidemic and make further recommendations.

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush and Tennessee State Court Administrator Deborah Taylor Tate are co-chairs of the task force.  Other task force members from CCJ include Chief Justice Mark Cady of Iowa, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura of New Mexico, and Chief Justice Paul Reiber of Vermont. Other task force members from COSCA include Michael Buenger of Ohio, Nancy Dixon of Kansas, and Corey Steel of Nebraska.

“While much attention has deservedly been focused on this epidemic’s health impact, we cannot ignore the significant legal issues it also raises. It has become a recurring theme throughout our nation that this crisis is crippling our communities and overwhelming our courts,” said Chief Justice of Indiana Loretta H. Rush, co-chair of the new task force.

“I look forward to working with colleagues across the nation to save lives, families and communities,” said Deborah Taylor Tate, task force co-chair and Tennessee’s state court administrator.

Financial support for the study group comes from the State Justice Institute (SJI).  The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) will provide additional funding, as well as staffing support.

The work plan for the judicial branch task force includes the following strategies:

  • Convening representatives from state and federal government and key national organizations to share existing strategies and identify unmet needs.
  • Creating partnerships with entities addressing the impact of opioids on children, with specific emphasis on foster care, assisting state courts in developing opioid task forces, and working with existing state task forces to make recommendations for local response efforts.
  • Developing guiding principles that state courts can use for successful collaboration among treatment providers, criminal justice systems, and child welfare agencies.
  • Creating a checklist of state legislation, policy, and court rules that aid or inhibit response efforts.

An initial in-person meeting of the members of the task force will take place in Washington, DC on November 13, 2017.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts. 


National Center for State Courts, 300 Newport Avenue, Williamsburg, VA  23185-4147