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With opioid addiction reaching epidemic levels in the United States, lawmakers and law enforcers are beginning to realize the problem can't be addressed like most drug crimes. Standard fines and incarceration are no replacement for rehabilitation and treatment and cops, courts, and congresspeople are looking for better alternatives.
While many jurisdictions already have specialized drug courts in place, New York took it one step further last month, instituting the nation's first-ever opiate court designed steer offenders towards addiction treatment rather than criminal prosecution.
Care, Not Confinement
The Buffalo City Court started the opiate intervention program on May 1, screening everyone arrested in Buffalo for opiate use, and directing those who are struggling with addiction to a treatment program while their criminal cases are put on hold. Judges and prosecutors will work together to offer individuals options in terms of the type of treatment and using their participation or completion of treatment programs as a mitigating factor in their prosecution. "Jail is not the answer," District Attorney John J. Flynn told the Buffalo News. "Will people be held accountable for their crimes? Yes. But they also deserve to be cared for and loved."
The new opiate court will differ from traditional drug courts in a couple significant ways. While drug users under the past program often would not begin treatment for 30, 60, or 90 days, treatment under the opiate court can begin immediately. As local attorney Mark A. Adrian described, those kinds of delays for opiate addicts can be deadly: "I've had eight clients die while their cases were pending." There will also be no penalty for failing initial treatment efforts.
Alive, Not Dead
As reported by The Buffalo News, the opioid epidemic has hit the upstate area especially hard:
With an average of one overdose death in Erie County every day, the object is to save lives, officials said. Latest figures from the Erie County Health Department show 66 confirmed fatal overdoses in 2017, with 111 more suspected. There were 296 confirmed fatal overdoses in 2016.
But the paper also reported that the opiate court, at least in its early stages, has been a success. Forty of the first 43 people directed to intervention are currently in treatment programs.
While the Empire State may serve as a model for the country, specialized opiate or drug courts may not be available where you live. If you're experiencing issues with prescription drug addiction, you can access professional help for free. And if you've been charged with an opioid-related drug offense, you should consult with an experienced drug crime attorney as soon as possible.