Rural Judge Admits being Caught Unaware by Opiates' 'Power'

January 30, 2017

From the Knoxville News-Sentinel

When the opiate epidemic came calling in his rural five-county jurisdiction, one East Tennessee judge admits he was caught unaware.

“In 2000, 2001, I had a friend come to me to say another friend had passed away from an overdose,” 8th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton told attendees at a Friday symposium at the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law. “I had never heard of Oxycontin. I had no idea of its power.”

As his dockets grew crowded with opiate addicts whose crimes, even if not directly drug-related, were spurred by their addiction, Sexton said he initially treated it like the other problem that had long plagued the rural communities in his district – alcoholism.

Addicts were sent to 28-day treatment programs – a detoxification period now deemed wholly inadequate for opiate users – and inevitably wound up right back in front of his bench, Sexton said.

“Within a month or two, they had either relapsed or reoffended,” he said. “I started realizing the problem is not them. It’s me. I had no idea about addiction.”

As the epidemic has grown, leading to a dramatic rise in overdose deaths and the re-emergence of heroin as an even deadlier substitute for prescription opiates, Sexton founded a drug court program designed to treat opiate addicts not as criminals or immoral, weak-willed people, but as people with a deadly disease.

Read the entire story here.

8th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton, shown here on the bench on Aug. 27, 2015, readily admits he was unaware of the area's growing prescription drug problem until it already had a firm grip on the community. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)(Photo: Michael Patrick)