Rush & Chaudhary: Joining forces to fight the opioid crisis

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By Loretta Rushand Jay Chaudhary

In Indiana alone, 1,840 people died from overdoses in 2017, the vast majority caused by opioids. Those Hoosier deaths are part of the 115 Americans who die every day from an opioid overdose — one person every 12 minutes. And the death toll keeps climbing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Indiana suffered some of the largest spikes in drug overdose deaths in the nation last year. The trajectory of loss is unbearable for our families and communities.

There are even more living victims. More than 2 million Americans live with an opioid-related substance use disorder. And an Indiana University survey released last month found that one-quarter of Indiana residents surveyed have a friend with an opioid addiction, and nearly one in five say that person is a family member.

It is imperative that our legal system work on sustainable solutions. This epidemic is not only a major public health crisis — it also creates a variety of legal challenges. Many opioid victims come into the courts not just in criminal cases, but also with civil issues such as child support and custody, health and veteran benefits, domestic violence, elder and child abuse, housing and employment. These problems are a real barrier to successful recovery.

The nation’s largest funder of civil legal aid, the Legal Services Corporation, has formed an Opioid Task Force to highlight the critical role legal aid providers are playing in addressing the opioid crisis and identify best practices.

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The 29-member group, which held its first meeting Oct. 17 in Indianapolis, is comprised of health experts, judges, leaders in business and government, law enforcement, the faith community and other stakeholders. The civil legal aid community, led by Indiana Legal Services, has its own role focused on eliminating legal barriers for those in recovery so they can maintain income and employment, housing, licenses, etc.

Though our gathering in Indiana stemmed from bleak statistics, we are also hope-filled that our discussion in the Crossroads of America will lead us on a road to recovery. The meeting included panel discussions focused on Indiana’s statewide response to the opioid crisis, medical-legal partnerships and a youth-oriented legal services program in Ohio.

Our next meeting, in February 2019 in Louisville, will be followed by a final meeting in Washington D.C., in April to present findings.•

• Loretta Rush is Indiana chief justice, co-chair of the National Judicial Opioid Task Force and a member of the LSC Opioid Task Force. Jay Chaudhary is managing attorney and director of medical legal partnerships at Indiana Legal Services and is a member of LSC’s Opioid Task Force.

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