The New York State Unified Court System (UCS) has long played and continues to play a central role in the battle against drug addiction. From the opening of the state's first drug court in Rochester in 1995 to the launching of the first-in-the-nation Opioid Intervention Court (OIC) in Buffalo in October 2016, the state's judiciary has been committed to assisting New Yorkers to overcome drug addiction. A commitment that continues today under Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks.

In addition to the now 140 drug courts statewide,1 the OIC provides immediate intervention, treatment, and medication for defendants who screen positive for being at risk of an opioid overdose or addiction. 2 The key elements of the grant-funded OIC incorporate research-based principles of therapeutic courts (including suspension of prosecution during the initial stabilization period), use of validated risk/need assessment tools, immediate engagement in Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), cognitive behavioral treatments, frequent judicial supervision, ongoing case management, and opportunities for continuing care.

In New York City, working with community stakeholders, the Bronx Opioid Avoidance and Recovery Court (OAR) was created to provide immediate linkage to treatment services for low level offenders at immediate risk of overdose. Efforts are underway to expand opioid courts in communities across New York State.

Recognizing that criminal behavior may also stem from a variety of underlying issues, the UCS opened other problem-solving courts, and today there are more than 400 specialty courts statewide. The UCS Office of Policy and Planning provides guidance and support to the Drug Treatment Courts, DWI Courts, Family Treatment Courts,3 Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, Judicial Diversion Programs,4 Mental Health Courts, Opioid Intervention Courts, Veterans' Treatment Courts, Domestic Violence and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts, and currently Adolescent Diversion Parts.5  While the path to criminal behavior may vary greatly among participants of each of the courts, participants in all these courts commonly report extensive histories of trauma and current alcohol and/or substance abuse.

Family Treatment Courts have proven to be an effective strategy to reunite parents with children while providing for sustained treatment and recovery for parents. With grant funding, UCS has led a Statewide System Reform Project to integrate child welfare, substance abuse treatment, and Family Court systems.

The UCS promotes the use of validated assessment tools and evidence-based interventions in all problem-solving courts to improve outcomes. The Office of Policy and Planning conducts ongoing training for judges, court staff, and community partners including treatment providers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and law enforcement officials to share best practices, legal updates, and operational information. The UCS published a first-of-its-kind resource document on how to incorporate MAT into problem-solving courts and will continue to train judges and court personnel statewide on the efficacy of MAT.

Lives have been saved by the quick actions of court officers trained to administer naloxone, also known as "Narcan," a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The UCS Court Officer Academy has been approved by the state Department of Health to serve as an Opioid Overdose Prevention Center and is authorized by the New York state Division of Criminal Justice Services to train additional court personnel to administer naloxone.

The Treatment/Service Module (TSM) of the NYS Universal Case Management System was developed to support the operations of New York's problem-solving courts. Using the TSM, the UCS is incorporating the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model, that matches the intensity of an individual's treatment to their level of risk for reoffending and that tailors programming to gender, cultural, and developmental needs. The TSM incorporates several other validated risks and need assessment tools to guide supervision decisions and case management, improve outcomes for participants, reduce recidivism, and to ultimately improve community safety.

The Office of Policy and Planning also has a statewide initiative to train court staff and community partners in Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT), which is an evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral intervention designed to improve consequential thinking in treatment-resistant offenders to reduce recidivism.

In addition to referrals to behavioral health and community services, drug treatment services are also provided to participants in Human Trafficking Intervention Courts and Mental Health Courts. Often these individuals have substance use issues from using alcohol or drugs to cope with such underlying issues as mental illness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other trauma.

Everyone in the UCS remains committed to helping combat the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic and continues to innovate to strengthen communities and enhance public safety.

  • N.Y. State Unified Court Sys., The Future of Drug Courts in New York State: A Strategic Plan 3–4 (Jan. 1, 2017), %20Plan.pdf.
  • Michael Canfield, Buffalo Opens Nation’s First Opiate Centered Court, Buffalo L. J. (June 2, 2017),
  • Family treatment courts are specialized courts that “use a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach” to serve families that require substance use disorder treatment and are involved in the child welfare system. Children & Family Futures & Nat’l Drug Court Inst., Transitioning to a Family Centered Approach: Best Practices & Lessons Learned from Three Adult Drug Courts 5 (2017),
  • Judicial Diversion Program for Certain Felony Offenders is codified in CPL Article 216 (McKinney 2017).
  • Once fully implemented on October 1, 2019, the “Raise the Age” legislation, found in A-3009c/S-2009c Part WWW, will render Adolescent Diversion Parts obsolete.