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The 10 Essential Elements of Opioid Intervention Courts

NCJ Number
Date Published
16 pages

This document provides background information about the current, ongoing opioid epidemic, the first opioid courts that opened in 2017, and national efforts to address the epidemic.


This article addresses the unique challenges to the justice system, posed by the opioid epidemic, due to an increase in opioid-related arrests. These arrests have resulted in increased pressure on police, probation officers, and court staff who now need training to administer drug overdose reversal medication, and jails that have become places where incarcerated individuals experience opioid detoxification. The document presents the history and development of the nation’s opioid intervention courts, starting in Buffalo, New York, in 2017, with the explicit goal of saving lives and relies on day-of-arrest intervention and rapid access to evidence-based treatment. As opioid intervention courts appear throughout the U.S., this document seeks to define the model and identify core practices that those courts should include, by providing a clearly defined model that is based on research and practice experience, and which can help court planners build strong and sustainable programs. The ten essential elements are listed, along with explanatory paragraphs, they are: broad legal eligibility; immediate screening for risk of overdose; informed consent after consultation with defense counsel; suspension of prosecution or expedited plea; rapid clinical assessment and treatment engagement; recovery support services; frequent judicial supervision and compliance monitoring; intensive case management; program completion and continuing care; and program evaluation and program improvement.