BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A room full of elected officials and health professionals stood in agreement Wednesday; jail isn’t the answer when it comes to addiction.
“The statistics will show the alarming increase of opiate-related deaths. That statistic has worked its way into our courts,” said Buffalo’s Chief Judge Thomas Amodeo, as he announced the country’s first Opiate Crisis Intervention Court.
The pilot program is made possible with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.
It’s aiming to be the first step toward recovery for addicts who end up in court.
Those in need of immediate treatment or at risk of an overdose are referred to treatment before they start the court process.
“Individuals who are addicted sometimes acts in ways that have them run into the law. But they are no real risk to society. They’re no real harm to society, and what they really need is to be treated for their underlying addiction,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.
Local leaders noted relying on arrests and jail time to turn addicts around has not only proven ineffective, it’s also often more expensive for taxpayers.
“We lose a life on average every day because of this problem,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said.
Erie County’s death toll for opiate-related deaths continues to grow. Lethal fentanyl is suspected of killing seven people in just 24 hours in Erie County in March.
Since the new court system began May 1, dozens have been placed in treatment.
The program is being supervised by Dr. Richard Blondell of UB Family Medicine and Judge Craig Hannah.
The Opiate Crisis Intervention Court will work in conjunction with Drug Court, which began in Buffalo in 1995 in response to the crack epidemic.