Emily (she/her/hers) will provide alternative dispute resolution services in West Virginia to low-income families with a focus on family law matters in which a biological parent is suffering from substance use disorder.
West Virginia is one of the most opioid-impacted states in the country. This epidemic has affected many West Virginians and, as a result, catalyzed family law issues such as custody disputes which often result in children being placed with other family members. Currently, the only avenue available to low-income West Virginians for addressing these disputes is an adversarial court process wherein family members are pitted against one another and incentivized to shed a negative light on the opposing party. This process often results in a dissolution of the family and trauma to the children involved. These families need a non-adversarial, neutral environment to discuss their concerns and reach a mutually acceptable agreement that is in the best interest of all the parties involved.
Emily will be providing alternative dispute resolution processes for opioid-impacted families to resolve their family law issues. She will be working directly with these families to better understand the needs of those suffering from substance use disorder, strengthen familial relationships, and facilitate mutually acceptable agreements. Emily will also be creating a referral network with established opioid crisis relief programs to provide educational materials to opioid-impacted families on the benefits of alternative dispute resolution for opioid-related family law issues.
Growing up in West Virginia, I watched families fall apart due to opioid-related issues. I always believed those relationships could be rebuilt, and I wanted my legal career to provide opportunities for reunification.
Emily Neely /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alayna established an innovative and replicable advocacy program providing specialized legal support to children whose parents struggle with opioid addiction and are involved in juvenile court dependency cases.
In Allegheny County, KidsVoice has seen a 300child increase in the number of children involved in dependency cases due to opioids. Though opioid addiction is on the rise, it is possible for people to recover and lead more stable lives while providing better parental care; by keeping children in the home with their families and providing 24/7 support, further trauma will be prevented and children will be ensured safety. During her Fellowship, Alayna was assigned to a specialized group of cases involving children and their families who were impacted by parental substance use and the opioid epidemic.
Alayna acquired specialized knowledge on dependency issues related to parental substance use and identified cases in which it was possible for children to remain in their parents’ care while they received the necessary treatment and supervision to ensure the entire family’s safety.
Alayna was a member of two task forces and during her time with one of those groups, she collaborated with system leaders in fields of child welfare, drug and alcohol, and healthcare in order to develop a county-wide protocol for infants born affected by substance use or withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, pursuant to federal and state laws.
Alayna created resources on subjects including Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and sobriety, in collaboration with subject-matter professionals, which will be utilized by child advocates and judicial professionals for years after her fellowship ends.
Following her Fellowship, Alayna will remain at KidsVoice as a Staff Attorney. She is excited to have the opportunity to continue working on her current caseload, which consists of dependent children impacted by the opioid epidemic. Alayna will also take on additional cases that will further enhance her competency as a dependency guardian ad litem attorney.
I have always been drawn to work that involves advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Children impacted by the opioid epidemic deserve staunch advocates in their corner and I am proud that it gets to be me.
Alayna Bartko /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Brendan helped West Virginians recovering from substance use disorder through Medication Assisted Treatment regain control of their lives by educating communities and removing legal barriers to their recovery through advocating for their access to employment, housing, and economic stability.
While there is no one demographic that been left unharmed by the opioid crisis, rural West Virginia has been the epicenter. Those lucky enough to survive and begin the long road to recovery face substantial socioeconomic barriers, including access to legal counsel to protect their rights. Brendan’s project with Legal Aid of West Virginia provides access to legal counsel to address all the underlying issues to effectively mitigate key relapse factors.
During the Fellowship, Brendan:
- Maintained the states only substance use disorder medical-legal partnership.
- Trained attorneys/advocates statewide on substance use disorder advocacy and person-first language.
- Represented clients on expungements, employment, housing, custody, and license reinstatements.
- Worked with community partners to raise awareness and combat stigma against people in recovery.
Brendan’s project has secured funding to extend until at least 2022 and he and his host organization are in the late application stages for long-term, sustainable funding. Brendan and Legal Aid of West Virginia plan to expand the project to additional counties and recovery organizations.
I became a lawyer so that I could help my community take action to overcome and heal from the opioid epidemic.
Brendan Wood /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Expanded access to necessary medical care for incarcerated people with opioid use disorder through innovative litigation, advocacy, and training.
At least a quarter of America’s prison population suffers from opioid use disorder and twenty-four percent of people who are addicted to heroin pass through America’s jails and prisons each year. Yet most jails and prisons have an outright ban on medication for addiction treatment (MAT), the medically approved way to treat people with opioid use disorder through a combination of counseling and the FDA approved medications methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. The consequences of such inadequate medical care are deadly—one study found that in the first two weeks after release from prison, an incarcerated person’s risk of dying from a heroin overdose is forty times as high as the general population. But providing MAT saves lives—making it seven times less likely that a recently incarcerated individual will die of an overdose.
Joseph is from rural Ohio, which has been severely impacted by the opioid epidemic, as documented in the book Dreamland by Sam Quinones. Joseph spent the summer after his first year of law school in Cincinnati, Ohio working with incarcerated people, where he saw firsthand the toll that the opioid epidemic has taken on vulnerable communities. Joseph envisions a world where people suffering from any addiction are able to get the treatment they need and live whole lives, free from stigma.
Throughout his Fellowship, Joseph filed cases against jails and prisons in Illinois, New Mexico, and New York for failure to provide MAT for incarcerated people with opioid use disorder. The litigation in Illinois resulted in his client being the first non-pregnant person in the DuPage County Jail to receive methadone in five years and also sparked an expansion of the Jail’s methadone policy. He also published a report giving an overview of MAT-in-corrections policies throughout the country and providing a roadmap for policy change. Joseph worked on legislative and policy advocacy efforts alongside ACLU affiliates across the country to change prison and jail policies on MAT, as well as working on COVID-19 related litigation in jails and immigration detention facilities.
After his Fellowship, Joseph will clerk for Judge Roy McLeese of the D.C. Court of Appeals.