The Height of the Opioid Epidemic 2016-2019
In 2017, the impact of the opioid epidemic touched every aspect of public safety and the judicial system. In a 2017 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 was severe. Drug-related arrests involving opioids were skyrocketing. In many communities, court dockets and probation caseloads were filled with individuals with opioid-use disorders.
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.
The CDC reported that between 2016 and 2017, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol) increased by 45%, from 6.2 to 9.0 per 100,000; while deaths involving methadone, heroin and natural opioids remained approximately the same.
Number and Age-Adjusted Rates of Drug Overdose Deaths by State, 2017
In addition to the impact of opioid abuse on the criminal courts, the nation’s family courts and child welfare system were deeply affected. A 2018 report by the Administration for Children and Families showed that after years of decline the number of children in foster care was rising. From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of removals nationally due to parental substance abuse increased 13 percent to 32.2 percent.