North Carolina's Supreme Court Chief Justice has announced he's joining a task force to seek multi-state solutions to the national opioid crisis. Justice Mark Martin will serve as a member of the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative.
Martin has experience in this policy area as a member of the governor's mental health and substance abuse task force.
“One thing we've tried to focus on is proper training for court staff to better assess when someone is struggling with a substance abuse or mental health condition,” he said. “Let's try to treat the underlying condition, because often times the consequence of those conditions is much higher involvement in the criminal justice system.”
Martin said it concerns him that four North Carolina municipalities are in the top 20 nationally for opioid abuse. He said the opioid epidemic has greatly impacted the courts as well as jails and prisons.
“We have a hundred sheriffs and they regularly tell me that they have so many people in the local jail that have substance use and mental health disorders,” he said. “A recent study indicated that 53 percent of those in prison had a substance abuse disorder -- now that's a majority.”
The initiative will bring together state court leaders from 10 states to develop best practices for judicial officials and law enforcement officers to combat addiction.
Drug overdoses claimed the lives of nearly 1,500 North Carolinians in 2015, according to state officials. Prescription opioids were responsible for about half of those deaths. Opioid addiction can also serve as a gateway to other drugs, including heroin. Officials says the state’s heroin-related deaths since 2010 increased more than 800 percent.