(The Center Square) — Amid an ongoing opioid crisis, the North Carolina Collaboratory is launching a comprehensive review of the state’s various treatment courts to expand their reach throughout the state.
The Collaboratory, created in 2016 “to utilize and disseminate the research expertise across the University of North Carolina System for practical use by state and local government,” will work with the NC Administrative Office of the Courts over the coming months to study the impact of programs focused on helping those with substance abuse and mental health in the court system.
“There is plenty of need for these types of courts and the research backs them up,” Sara Howe, CEO of Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, told The Center Square. “We have a long-standing position we support recovery courts and want to see them expanded throughout the state.”
The work, funded by a $300,000 appropriation from the General Assembly through the Opioid Abatement Reserve, will focus on Judicially Managed Accountability and Recovery Courts, such as adult treatment courts, family treatment courts, DWI treatment courts, mental health courts, veteran treatment courts, juvenile treatment courts and others.
The programs involve collaboration between court staff and community professionals to help high-risk and high-need North Carolinians with substance abuse disorders regain their lives through comprehensive treatment plans.
Mike Roberts, director of outreach for Addiction Professionals of North Carolina, said he’s witnessed the results first-hand working for drug and veteran treatment courts in Buncombe County.
“I saw a lot of people get better,” said Roberts, who overcame his own battle with addiction. “The courts provided therapy and different things and recognized addiction as a disease that needs treatment instead of locking people up in jail.”
“It’s punitive, but also with love and compassion,” he said.
The Collaboratory review comes from a recommendation by the NC Administrative Office of the Courts to bolster plans to expand treatment courts across counties and judicial districts through technology and other innovations.
The Collaboratory will analyze the current treatment court operating models, funding sources, demand, and capacity to evaluate effectiveness and report recommendations to lawmakers no later than Oct. 1, 2024.
“This strategic plan is an important opportunity to partner with the North Carolina Collaboratory and address the growing impacts of the opioid crisis and other substance addictions harming communities across our state,” NC Administrative Office of the Courts Director Ryan Boyce said in a prepared statement. “Our mission is to support local court leaders and public safety partners who currently operate treatment courts with limited funding in their communities to expand best practices and capacity to best serve all of North Carolina.”
There are currently an estimated 71 treatment courts operating in 31 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Addiction Professionals of North Carolina cites research that shows 68% of North Carolina substance use providers noted an increase in demand for services during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the ongoing opioid crisis contributed to over 100,000 overdoses nationally from October 2021 to October 2022. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports more than 36,000 North Carolinians lost their lives to drug overdoses from 2000 to 2022.
“This is not a political party issue,” Howe said. “These courts work and they need to be in every county.”