The opioid epidemic that is sweeping our nation is having a direct impact on our justice system. Here in the Tennessee Valley it can take up to a year and a half before any case goes before a judge. According to the Madison County district attorney, many of those cases are drug related.
“I guarantee you, of all felony charges, I bet a fourth to a third of our cases involve drug offenses,” says District Attorney Rob Broussard.
The numbers are staggering: 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016. 42,249 people died from overdosing in the same year. The economic inpact was more than 500 billion dollars.
During his state of the Union, President Donald Trump called on our legal system to crack down on opioid abusers. “We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge,” he said.
Michael Vachetta is the case manager for His Way. His Way is a Christ-centered recovery program for men struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. The facility is expanding to keep up with a growing waiting list. Many of these men are in the fight of their lives and on the other side of the law.
Varchetta says, “What happens to them, when they become convicted felons, and by the time they go through the court system, they can’t get a job because they’re felons. They can’t find a place to live because they’re felons.”
Justin Paul Parker is a resident at the facility. He says, “It’s an emotional taxing thing. It’s financially taxing. It’s a burden on society.”
Parker says he tried his first opiate at the age of 12. Since then, he can’t tell you how many times he’s been to the courtroom.
“I’ve not kept count,” he says. “Purposefully, I’ve not kept count. I know it’s in the teens.”
“It really involves a lot of people’s time: judges, prosecutors, attorney’s defendants,” says Varchetta.
Meanwhile, Broussard says his office will continue to press down on opiod abuse, despite some flaws in the system. “The opioid epidemic is hitting real hard as a practical matter to society. And, I think the justice system is lagging somewhat. But, we’re gonna do something about it.”