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Fentanyl Safety Recommendations for First Responders (Federal Interagency Working Group)


Read the latest opioid-related news. Click here for an archive of news, documentaries, interviews, books and more.

Opioids and the Courts

Widespread use of opioids has had a devastating impact on many U.S. communities. This impact is evident on court dockets across the country on a daily basis. Courts must play an active role in providing solutions to this deadly epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an opioid is a natural or synthetic chemical that interacts with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain and reduces the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. This class of drugs includes the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain medications available legally by prescription such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others. Opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999. For an infographic of CDC data on the opioid epidemic, click here.

The map below displays state overdose death rates in 2016 as reported to the CDC. Additional data from the CDC indicates that the types of opioids used are also changing in even more dangerous ways. Overdose deaths involving powerful opioids such as fentanyl continue to increase.

Number and Age-Adjusted Rates of Drug Overdose Deaths by State, 2016

CDC's number and age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths by state, 2016

The impact of the opioid epidemic touches every aspect of public safety and the judicial system. In a recent survey of chief justices and state court administrators, 55 percent of respondents indicated that the opioid epidemic's impact on the courts in their states is severe. Drug-related arrests involving opioids are skyrocketing. In many communities, court dockets and probation caseloads are filled with individuals with opioid-use disorders. 

In addition to the impact of opioid abuse on the criminal courts, the nation’s family courts and child welfare system have been deeply affected. A recent report by the Administration for Children and Families shows that, after years of decline, the number of children in foster care is rising. From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of removals nationally due to parental substance abuse increased 13 percent to 32.2 percent. 

Legal Responses


State legislatures have been active in developing and enacting a broad range of statutory responses to the opioid crisis. Select the subject matter of the legislation you are seeking from the dropdown menu below. You will find the code section and full text of all laws within each selected category arranged alphabetically by state. Proposed and pending bills are not included. Additional information regarding opioid related legislation is also tracked by the National Council of State Legislatures and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.