Crisis? National emergency? For Illinois lawyers, it’s time to address a serious issue

On February 15, 2019, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to secure funding to build a wall at the southern border of the United States.  One of the president’s stated reasons for the declaration was to stop or slow the flow of narcotics into this country from Mexico.

In the days that followed, constitutional scholars, attorneys general, and members of Congress all debated the authority of the president to so act.  As I reflected on the justification for the diversion of funds from the military to be utilized for wall construction, I wondered to what extent drug addiction had spread within the Illinois bar?  Has the now highly publicized opioid epidemic had a damaging impact on our profession? 

In August 2018, Link Christin, JD, MA, LADC, wrote an article in the ABA’s Senior Lawyer’s online publication detailing the increasing evidence of attorneys becoming addicted to a variety of opioid class narcotics.  Christin, who treats attorneys, notes that unlike alcohol, opioids are easier to hide from clients or co-workers, as there are not the tell-tale signs of use.  However, the significant dangers are real.  For example, opioids mixed with alcohol can result in fatal respiratory depression, frequently by accident.  He observes that over 20 percent of lawyers now list opioids, including Vicodin, codeine, methadone, Oxycontin, fentanyl, and heroin, as their drug of choice over alcohol.  Sadly, Christin reports, attorneys are particularly reluctant to seek treatment for their addiction. 

One not-for-profit focuses on assisting attorneys in efforts to combat addiction is the Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or LAP.  LAP’s mission is “to help lawyers, judges, and law students get assistance with substance abuse, addiction and mental health problems; protect clients from impaired lawyers and judges; and to educate the legal community about addiction and mental health issues.”  LAP accepts confidential emails at

Of particular interest in the national discussion is LAP’s breakdown of reported cases for substance abuse in its program.  According to LAP’s utilization data (2017-2018), alcohol abuse makes up 81% of this category.  See for further details.  

Last year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) reported that drug deaths in Illinois rose ten percent. Multiple reports indicate Illinois was late to the opioid crisis, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, MD, JD, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health from 2015-2019. Though the CDCP’s totals include drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, the vast majority of overdose deaths were due to opioids.

Is there a national emergency on the southern border?  The courts and Congress will determine this.  However, the crisis in the legal profession, much like other professions and populations in Illinois, is drug addiction.  Luckily, organizations such as LAP are ready to assist attorneys and judges fight this danger right now. 

David W. Inlander
Chair, ISBA Bench & Bar Section Council


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March 2019Volume 49Number 7PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)