In 2015, 69 people died from drug overdoses relating to opiates in Lackawanna County. That’s an average of 3 people per day. From the District Attorney, to families of overdose victims, to treatment providers and the criminal justice system, everyone in Lackawanna County has been taking new measures to confront the epidemic that has hit our neighborhoods and breached our homes. Now, Scranton Police Department hopes to offer another solution to drug users, especially those who struggle with opioid addiction.
As drug addiction is a multi-faceted disease, it needs to be addressed on all fronts; socially, environmentally, psychologically, physically, and even criminally. For decades, the standard procedure was to arrest the drug user, perpetuating an in-and-out cycle through the correctional system. The Scranton Police Department looks to possibly change this with a new pre-arrest initiative.
The program is called the Contract for Recovery initiative and would offer low-level drug offenders who suffer with opioid addiction, an opportunity to enter into a drug and alcohol treatment, rather than having charges filed. The department recently applied for a federal grant of about $730,000 to fund the 3-year program.
Although a complement to the county’s treatment court and Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, it differs in a very specific way. In these pre-existing programs, offenders are charged with offenses but have the ability to expunge those charges after the completion of an extended drug and alcohol treatment. While these opportunities have been beneficial to many people, even after expungement, offenses can affect a person’s ability to find and secure employment. Furthermore, the cost for lawyer fees, fines, and restitution can create financial hardships for addicts and their families.
Police Chief Carl Graziano told the Times-Tribune, “The difference (with the proposed Contract for Recovery) is they never actually enter the criminal justice system, so they don’t get a criminal record. It’s going to be a pre-booking intervention program. It will target the heroin and opioid addiction problem in our area.”
Instead of being arrested, the individual would be given the chance to sign a Contract for Recovery, agreeing to enter and complete drug and alcohol treatment. This gives offenders the opportunity to avoid having a record which would reflect negatively on job applications, but more importantly, the chance to treat their opioid addiction and escape the possibility of cycling in-and-out of the correctional system. No fingerprints or photos would be taken, no charges filed. The two treatment providers that would be working with the initiative are A Better Today and Drug and Alcohol Treatment Service, both located in Scranton. If, for whatever reason, the individual does not complete the assigned treatment, the filing of charges would move forward.
The initiative would take on two separate approaches.
- Pre-offense Diversions: This diversion would require the police department to spread the word on the streets and throughout the city of the new program. The hope is to encourage and/or persuade users who are interested in getting better and otherwise may not reach out for help, to do so.
- Pre-arrest Diversions: This diversion would take place if and when a user commits a minor crime, such as possession of a controlled substance or paraphernalia. At the point of arrest, the user would be offered a chance at the contract.
This proposed initiative can easily be compared to other measures and programs throughout the country. In 2015, Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Department established what they call the “Angel Program,” something that has inspired many more departments to do the same. In the Angel Program, addicts are able to go to the police department, turn in their drugs, and instead of being arrested, are assigned to an “angel.” This “angel” is a volunteer who will walk the user through the process of entering treatment and assist in getting them immediate help for their opioid addiction. Within the first year of inception, more than 400 addicts went to the Gloucester police department for help.
The grant application must go before the Scranton City Council for approval and says the funds would be appropriated through a smart policing initiative seeking effective prevention and response approaches to drug overdose and deaths.
No one ever thinks that opioid addiction can happen to them or their family. Some would like to still believe that heroin addiction lives under a bridge and wears a trench coat and tattered clothing. That is no longer the case. Opioid addiction affects us all. It can be the high school quarterback prescribed painkillers for an injury, or the nurse who steals medications from work, or the college dropout who has recently begun to inject heroin. We must open our minds and and welcome innovative prevention and intervention methods. Anything to help stem this crisis, is a step in the right direction.
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Clearbrook has been providing quality drug and alcohol treatment to Lackawanna, Luzerne, and surrounding counties throughout Pennsylvania for over 4 decades. If you or someone you love is suffering from the opioid addiction, please contact our Admissions Specialists today.