The chief justices of the six New England states have launched the New England Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative (NE RJOI), the second regional group of its kind. The establishment of the New England group, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, comes at a time when federal, state and local leaders have committed to work together to combat the opioid epidemic and to help others recognize the crucial role that the courts play to fight this crisis.
The first joint effort, the Appalachia/Midwest Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative, included Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. It was established in 2017 – the same year the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators established the National Judicial Opioid Task Force. The national task force, which NCSC staffs, was created to examine current efforts and find solutions to address the opioid epidemic.
Like the states in the first regional group, the New England states have experienced some of the highest opioid-related overdose death rates ranging from 36 deaths per 100,000 in New Hampshire to 18 deaths per 100,000 in Vermont, according to the most recent figures available. The New England states also have some of the nation’s highest rates of opioid prescriptions per 100 people. The rates range from 60 per 100 in Massachusetts to 70 per 100 in Maine.
In support of the NE RJOI, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance has awarded the group $1.5 million. The initiative intends to develop a multi-state approach to the opioid epidemic with a focus on the courts. The project will allow states to share best practices, coordinate and standardize procedures, and communicate in a more targeted and unified way.