2018-08-08 / Front Page

Judge shares 911 call during statewide opioid summit

Nicole DeCriscio

The opening remarks of the Statewide Opioid Summit last week set the tone and the goals for the day.

Chief Justice of Indiana, Hon. Loretta H. Rush was the first to speak at the event.

Rush is the 108th Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and was appointed in 2012. She became chief justice on Aug. 18, 2014. She served as the elected trial court judge of Tippecanoe Superior Court #3. She earned her undergraduate degree from Purdue University and graduated cum laude from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.

“The opioid crisis hits everyone, family, friends, colleges, clients,” Rush said.

She said the goal was to create framework not just for the opioid crisis sweeping the nation but for a drug crisis in general.

“This issue blends law and science together,” Rush said.

She said more often than not, a referral source of someone to treatment is the criminal justice system.

“It’s not just about giving consequences in the criminal justice system and trying to rebuild and reform; it’s about saving lives,” Rush said.

She said the purpose of the summit was to give information about the science behind addiction and addiction treatment.

“This is not just a court endeavor,” Rush said.

She then introduced Hon. William J. Nelson.

Nelson serves as the judge for Marion Superior Court, Criminal Division in Indianapolis. He received his J.D. degree from IU McKinney School of Law in 1984.

Nelson began his speech by calling the summit a historical event.

“We are in the middle of a national health crisis, a crisis that doesn’t play favorites. Someone who is affected by the opioid crisis. It doesn’t matter your background, where you come from, who you are, you know somebody going through this,” Nelson said. “These are people that you know, and we need to help them.”

Nelson commented on the impact of the opioid epidemic.

“With today’s summit I think Indiana has taken a lead in the country’s war on opioids,” Nelson said.

“A war that we are losing. A war that kills 115 people every day. Think about it. By the time we adjourn this afternoon, 38 more people will be added to the death toll. This is a war that truly hits home for me.”

Nelson shared a 911 call from a mother of a child who was addicted to opioids.

“She found him after he had overdosed,” Nelson said. “It’s only 90 seconds long, but it is a tough 90 seconds.”

A woman frantically screaming was heard as a dispatcher tried to get information.

“My wife Christy made that call in the early morning hours of January 14, 2009. She had just discovered her only child and my stepson Bryan in his room having died just shortly after he had gone to bed the night before, and the day that she made that call happened to be her 47th birthday,” Nelson said.

He then recognized his wife and had her stand up. There was a round of applause for her.

“This is why we’re here today,” Nelson said. “If we’re ever going to make any progress in this seemingly endless battle, working together, commenting with each other and better educating ourselves in our options, including medication-assisted treatment is essential.”

Nelson said it is a difficult task.

“Getting over that barrier of crime versus addiction is equally difficult,” Nelson said.

He said he thought that addiction was a crime.

“That’s exactly what I thought 10 years ago. Ten years ago if you were a drug addict appearing before me in court, look out.

“You were a junkie who made a conscious decision to pop that pill or stick that needle in your arm. You were a thief, you were a prostitute, you were a criminal committing offenses to support your habit and you deserved to be punished. That all changed the day that 911 call was made,” Nelson said.

He urged his fellow judges to get rid of that mindset if it is one that they too have.

“Let’s learn today how to treat substance use disorder for exactly what it is, a chronic brain disease, not a crime,” Nelson said. “Let’s learn to help those in need instead of punish.”

Judicial professionals from each of Indiana’s 92 counties proceeded to attend sessions throughout the day to detail the science behind addiction and medication-assisted treatment and to learn what they can do in their roles to help persons with substance use disorders.

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