News and Editorial

Statewide Opioid Summit seeks solutions to crisis, local leaders weigh in

Clark County, Ind. |  by Leah Lowe  |  The Indiana Supreme Court invited teams from each county to attend a Statewide Opioid Summit: A Medication Assisted Treatment and Addictions Primer for Justice Professionals this Wednesday in Indianapolis.

The event was a part of the judicial branch’s pledge to help fight the public health crisis. County teams included judges, prosecutors, public defenders, chief probation officers, law enforcement, Department of Child Services, community leaders, and medical professionals. Sessions focused on the science of addiction and evidence-based treatments for substance use disorders, along with tools for the community.

The addictions epidemic impacts every county in Indiana, making it imperative for community leaders to work together to address the issue. The summit is one of several initiatives aimed at addiction that began this week.

Marion Superior Court Judge William Nelson presented at the summit, sharing that he had lost a stepson to the Opioid epidemic. Williams stated that this is “a national health crisis that does not play favorites.”

In Indiana, CDC data from 2016 shows an average rate of opioid prescriptions of 84 per 100 residents. In Clark County, that number is 105 per 100 – and in Floyd, 132. In the same year, Indiana saw 757 deaths from opioid drug use – a number that officials say has been steadily on the rise.

Vicki CarmichaelJude Vicki Carmichael of Clark Circuit Court 4 presides over the Clark County Family Treatment Drug Court. She attended Wednesday’s Statewide Opioid Summit and sat down to answer a few questions and share some takeaways.

Q: Many individuals in recovery that we’ve talked to would state that in their own reflection, addiction fueled many of the other crimes that they committed. Do you agree that this is often the case? As the opioid crisis has become more prevalent have you seen an increase in property crimes like burglary and theft?

Judge Carmichael: Addiction leads to more crime. People steal and burglarize in order to sell stolen goods to fuel their drug habits.

Q: What are your thoughts on Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) and do you have any insight on the success rate of treatments like this?

Judge Carmichael: MAT is extremely important in treating addiction.  But, it must be used in conjunction with other services, like therapy, outpatient treatment and 12 step programs.

My team is going to the Southern Indiana Treatment Center (the methadone clinic) on Monday. We need to learn more about what they do and how we can integrate their work into our family treatment drug court. We partner with Family Ark, ACP, and LifeSpring and other providers to ensure people are getting the services they need.

Q: How will you utilize what you’ve learned about addiction in your court? Will you take a leadership role in educating your colleagues in the local justice system?

Judge Carmichael: I will take what I learned on Wednesday and throughout our journey with FTDC and educate my colleagues on how important it is to treat the whole person. Addiction is a disease. And the justice system needs to take a holistic approach – not just lock people up.

Q: Some argue that addiction is a choice, rather than a disease. By the time many individuals are in front of your bench or in other courts, they are already down an unfortunate path, and the question is often a matter of incarceration vs. treatment. How can the legal system help guide us out of an epidemic of opioid addiction?

Judge Carmichael: We lead by connecting people to services and resources in our community and beyond. Addiction is a disease. Once someone takes that first drug, their brain is re-wired. It is no longer a choice. Addiction controls every choice they make. It is about where do they get their next fix, not how do I get to work or take my kids to school.

Q: This is not just an issue impacting adults with addiction issues – many children are victims as well. From babies born into addiction to an increasingly overburdened fostercare system, this is a crisis impacting not just individuals but families as well. Can you share with us a bit how you are witnessing these impacts in your own courts and how you think it impacts Clark County as a whole?

Judge Carmichael: When children are removed from their parents because of drug addiction, those children are more likely to end up in juvenile delinquency court. They are more likely to drop out of school. They are more likely to engage in drug use themselves. I see children and now grandchildren of people who have been involved in the justice system. We have to break the cycle.

The Summit was sponsored by the Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, Indiana University Addictions Grand Challenge, and the Association of Indiana Counties.

Next Level Recovery, Indiana provides access to resources for prescribers, emergency personnel, community leaders, and persons with substance use disorder and their families – one of many important components that is taking Indiana to the Next Level against the opioid crisis. For more information visit their website.

This story is part of a larger forthcoming series on Indiana’s addiction crisis.

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