A trailblazing scheme has been launched to give urgent treatment and recovery aid to opiate users before they are put through court prosecution.
The first-of-its-kind Opiate Crisis Intervention Court was opened in Buffalo at the beginning of May to provide a better support system for at-risk drug users after they are arrested.
It flips the usual legal process by putting intervention and treatment ahead of criminal prosecution and court proceedings and has already proved to be hugely successful.
The new court was designed to tackle the spiraling opioid addiction crisis in the U.S. Officials in Buffalo took action to launch the pilot project in a bid to save lives after seeing people die while going through the traditional court process.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said: “Unfortunately this came about because we have had one or two people dying in our court system every week as a result of drug use and overdoses. We were scratching our heads and saying we need to do more here.”
Courts in Buffalo have seen a drastic rise in the number of cases involving heroin users and opioid overdoses in recent years.
Figures released by Erie County Health Department show a major increase since 2014 when there were 127 opiate-related deaths. That number soared to 256 in 2015 and hit 296 last year.
As of the end of May, there had been 66 confirmed opiate deaths and another 110 suspected already in 2017.
The alarming numbers led to court officials making a bid for grant cash from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, which has been used to fund the crisis intervention court.
Organizers say the court works like an “intensive triage.” Within 24 hours of an arrest being made, everyone held in custody is screened by experts to see if they have an opiate addiction.
Following the screening, those who are affected by addiction are treated based on their individual circumstances. Some are referred to inpatient care, while others receive outpatient care and extra supervision.
“As long as they have not committed a violent crime, they’re immediately brought and arraigned in the opioid court,” Flynn said. “They are put in an inpatient care facility and then given the treatment they need. Their charges are adjourned, they are basically on hold until they have successfully completed the treatment or have some sort of a game plan as to how they are going to be treated. Once we know the game plan and know where they’re at, we can then deal with the charges.”
The new court is run through a combined effort between the Buffalo City Court officials, the district attorney’s office and the University of Buffalo School of Family Medicine, which helps with clinical assessments and monitoring.
Organizers were hoping to help at least 200 people per year, but are on track to easily surpass that figure. In the first two months of operation, more than 60 people have already been treated through the crisis intervention court.
Flynn hailed the effect the court has had in helping those most at risk as a result of drug use.
“We’re exceeding the numbers we wanted and the best news is that not a single person has passed away yet,” he said. “It’s absolutely making a very positive difference. This proactive approach is one way to get help for those who desperately need it and save lives. I’m honored to be part of the program, and we’re looking forward to doing what we can do to solve this crisis.”
Buffalo officials say the court will remain open as long as it is needed to save lives and hope it will encourage similar projects around the U.S.
“I think that this opiate problem, not just here in Buffalo but across the nation, has reached epidemic proportions,” Flynn added. “It’s something that we as need to grasp and realize what a problem it is. I would certainly hope we are paving the way for other courts like this. We think it’s a great idea, we think it’s working well. Is it going to completely solve a problem? No. But it is a tool that we can use to help solve the problem.”
Article retrieved from Here