Inspired by a recent appeal by philanthropist and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, The National Judicial College is launching a judge-centered initiative to confront the opioid crisis, Put Opioid Addiction Away for Life.
The country’s oldest and largest judicial education institution, the NJC has decades of experience educating the nation’s judges about how to deal with drug-addicted litigants. Among the many courses it offers is Drugs in America: What Every Judge Needs to Know.
The College has decided to seek $2 million in support from Bezos and anyone else concerned about the opioid epidemic so it can offer its educational programs for free in states where death from opioid overdose is the highest. The College also seeks to create online training programs for prosecutors and the defense bar.
The initiative comes in response to a tweet last month by Bezos, considered the world’s second-richest person. The billionaire asked for ideas that, with his financial support, could help people “in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”
Simply put, the NJC’s idea is to educate judges in the hardest-hit states as soon as possible so they understand the role they can play in ending the crisis.
To that end, the NJC is asking its alumni, faculty, friends and allies in the judicial space to do any or all of the following: tweet at Bezos (@JeffBezos) a message of support for the idea; share the idea on social media; make a donation. The College is also seeking the endorsement of the initiative by governors in the hardest-hit states.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and more than six out of 10 of those deaths involve an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every day 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose. The death toll from 2001-2015 alone surpassed a half-million.
A recent survey by the NJC found that the majority of judges don’t feel adequately prepared to handle issues related to the opioid crisis in their courtroom.
“If anyone says (s)he is adequately prepared to handle these issues, that judge is either blissfully ignorant or unwilling to accept the scope of the problems that exist,” wrote one judge. Another, in describing the explosion in drug-dependency cases, wrote, “This is a nightmare of gargantuan proportions.”
Drugs in America teaches judges about brain chemistry and the effects of drugs and addiction, how to identify treatment options, and how to craft sentences that both uphold the law and bring about a positive change in the user. Research suggests that judges can help break the chain of recidivism by being able to identify drug users in the courtroom, understand their needs, and utilize positive sentencing tools such as mandated counseling or drug-treatment programs.
The College’s social media campaign intentionally reaches beyond the NJC’s alumni (judges) because ethics rules and safety concerns prevent many judges from being active on social media.
“The public is desperate for solutions to the opioid problem. That’s why we are exploring creative ways to intensify the call to action,” said NJC President Benes Aldana. “The road to the nation’s recovery from the opioid epidemic has to go through the courts because, sadly, that’s where we see so many people addicted to opioids.”
Ed Cohen, Director of Communications/Marketing
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