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Talking Points for the Honorable Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

National Association of Drug Court Professionals
17th Annual Training Conference
Panel on Prescription Drugs

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
National Harbor, MD

     Thank you so much, Chief Justice Price. It's great to be here with my colleagues from SAMSHA, DEA, and ONDCP. And I want to thank you and West for inviting me, and for NADCP's leadership on this critically important issue.

     Let me say right off that I think drug courts are ideally situated to deal with the problem of prescription drug abuse. You know, historically, drug courts have been a model of flexibility when it comes to adapting to emerging problems. Prescription drug abuse is just the latest in a long line of challenges drug courts have been asked to meet.

     It's great we're talking about this issue so bluntly now. Because frankly, ten years, maybe even five years ago, I'm not sure we could even be having this conversation. There were certainly people in Congress like Harold Rogers and others in the treatment field who recognized it as a problem, but these - I think it's safe to say - were exceptions rather than the rule. Now we have a wider, and better, understanding of the scope of the challenges here. We know it's a growing - and dangerous - problem, and we know the criminal justice system is increasingly part of the response.

     But before we talk about enforcement and other justice system approaches, I think it's critical to remember the vital role of awareness and education. Probably the most important element to addressing this problem is educating parents and kids about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs and about the need for proper disposal. I know our partners represented here today are working hard in this area - and I was so glad we were part of DEA's National Take Back Days last September and again in April under Michele's tremendous leadership.

     Monitoring and tracking is another critical element. Of the four areas outlined in ONDCP's Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan, this is the area where my agency has the greatest involvement.

     Since 2002, our Bureau of Justice Assistance has administered the National Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. BJA has made 146 grants to 47 states and 1 territory to help collect and analyze data on controlled substances and improve information sharing. This year, we're gearing up to make another 10 or 11 awards. Back when the program began, only 15 states had monitoring programs. But today, 48 states - that's 48! - and 1 territory are either operating a PDMP or have passed legislation to do so.

     We're particularly concerned about treatment of prescription drug abusers who come into contact with the criminal justice system. OJP has a long history of supporting drug courts - and I, personally, am a huge champion. As Assistant Attorney General under Janet Reno, I created the Drug Court Office in 1994. I've been to more than a dozen drug court graduations over the years all over the country, and I can personally attest to their power as a catalyst for positive change.

     We also certainly know through research that drug courts are effective. In fact, as many of you heard about Monday, we just published the results of a five-year study of adult drug courts by the Urban Institute conducted under NIJ funding. It confirms that these courts are effective and cost-efficient in reducing substance abuse and recidivism.

     As you undoubtedly know, one of the more recent - and most exciting - iterations of the drug court approach is in the establishment of Veterans Treatment Courts, which use the traditional components of drug courts to address the unique needs of veterans. BJA has been working with our partners at the Veterans Administration to expand the use of these courts. Working with the VA and the National Drug Court Institute, we developed a training curriculum and we're delivering trainings to 20 sites - possibly more - to plan and implement veterans courts. We're also supporting four Veterans Treatment Mentor Court programs to showcase innovative practices.

     The Attorney General and I participated in a roundtable on veterans issues in Providence, Rhode Island, last month, and it was exciting to see the support and enthusiasm that their pilot veterans court program is getting. I think we'll be seeing more of these kinds of efforts in the near future.

     I'll just end by saying we see the issue of prescription drug abuse as one that requires a balanced attack, which is exactly what the Administration's plan - and the entire National Drug Control Strategy - emphasizes. And I appreciate the close collaboration and communication we have with our federal partners, with NADCP, and with all of you.

     Thanks so much.

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     Question from Chief Justice Price: The Obama Administration's prescription drug abuse prevention plan centers on four major areas - education, monitoring, disposal, and enforcement. I'm not sure it's clear to everyone where drug courts fit into this approach. What do you see as the role of drug courts in addressing this issue?

     Response: As I mentioned earlier, drug courts really have been a model of innovation and flexibility. I often tell people they've helped to change the way we think about the justice system and its potential for influencing lives. One thing that drug courts have been so good at is adapting to new challenges. I mentioned our work in establishing Veterans Treatment Courts - I think that's a perfect example.

     A couple of years ago, we recognized an increase in returning service members becoming involved in the criminal justice system with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues. The drug court model was well suited to meeting this need. And we've seen people like Judge Russell in Buffalo and others creating new dockets to address this population.

     Now, there are 78 Veterans Treatment Court programs operating in 27 states. Three years ago, there were only eight. I'm not sure we would be seeing this kind of proliferation without the foundation that drug courts provided.

     Our understanding of prescription drug abuse is evolving. And much like veterans' issues, we're learning that there are unique issues surrounding prescription drug abuse - for example, a diminished sense of risk among users that doesn't match the very real danger prescription drugs pose. The CDC just released findings from a study showing that prescription drugs are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in Florida. I think drug courts will be critical in directing system-involved abusers to the treatment they so desperately need.

     Let me also say that drug courts shouldn't be seen as an independent element of our prescription drug strategy. One of the things we're actively promoting is the link between PDMPs and drug courts. Just to take an example, we worked with the Oklahoma Prescription Monitoring Program to make sure data could be accessed by drug courts so that court staff could have the information for screening purposes.

     By the same token, we're encouraging drug courts to access PDMP info in their states, and I'd encourage everyone here to do the same.

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