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More Teens Are Dying from Drug Overdose

| August 21, 2017

Just this week, the National Center for Health Statistics published a study that found a 3.7 increase from 2014 to 2015 in the drug overdose death rate for adolescent teens.  The study reports that “the majority of drug overdose deaths in 2015 were unintentional,” and “were highest for opioids, specifically heroin.” This increase came after a seven-year period where the country experienced a steady 26% decline in overdose deaths after it peaked at 4.2 in 2007.

From a juvenile justice standpoint, what should lawmakers do with this information? This increase in teen overdose deaths only reinforces the call for reforms that promote evidence-based diversion programs. The juvenile justice systems must do a better job at screening teens for substance abuse issues. It must also err on the side of caution by diverting teens with substance abuse issues into drug treatment rather than placing them into detention facilities. To the extent a child commits a nonviolent crime that was driven by addiction issues, the primary goal of the juvenile justice system must be the rehabilitation of the child – and not just the imposition of a sanction. A system that only sanctions the child increases the likelihood that the child will commit more serious offenses as he or she grows into adulthood.  Or, even worse, the child will die.

With that said, these kids are not just the responsibility of the justice system. The Bible says that “Children are a heritage from the Lord” (Ps. 127:3).  As such, all of humanity has an obligation to help these children who are suffering from addiction.

Let us all invest in fighting for these kids.  They’re worth it.

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JULIE WARREN is a graduate of Marshall University and of Regent University School of Law. She also attended Georgetown Law Center as a visiting student. While in law school, she clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Julie served four years at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. After a few years in private practice as a civil defense litigator, Julie returned to public service and began her work in the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General where she primarily served as an appellate advocate for the State of West Virginia and as legislative counsel to the Attorney General.

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