The City of Troy has established an Opioid Intervention Court. The program is different from the traditional Drug Court in that it’s designed to provide immediate assistance to a defendant in the throes of addiction.
Supervising City Court Judge Christopher Maier said he, along with Administrative Judge Thomas Breslin and Supervising County Court Judge Debra Young established the program as part of the Unified Court System’s statewide efforts to address the Opioid Epidemic.
“This is really an immediate response by the court system to those individuals who are in crisis. We’re looking to save lives. We’re looking to intervene as quickly as possible to prevent people from an overdose,” said Judge Maier.
Judge Maier is in his 15th year of working with defendants in Troy’s Drug Court. He said this new program will focus on getting non-violent offenders who are battling heroin or opioid addiction the help they need; however, he said it is not an escape from prosecution.
“We’re going to hold people accountable, but lots of times you’ll see people with low-level offenses like petite larceny cases or something like that. Really indicative of a larger problem. They are stealing because they’re feeding a habit. So we want to address that. We want to be able to intervene as quickly as possible.”
According to the courts, after an arrest, a defendant is screened by the Troy Police. The information gathered from the screening is forwarded to the court and reviewed by Bonnie Hazard, Resource Coordinator for the Troy Regional Treatment Court. She then conducts an interview with the defendant with the consent of the defense counsel to determine if referral to the Opioid Court is appropriate. If deemed eligible, the defendant is referred to ambulatory detox at St. Mary’s Hospital, and the case is adjourned in court for a maximum period of 90 days to allow time for the defendant to receive the needed care. Maier said the court will resume prosecution once the defendant is stabilized.
According to the courts, to remain in Opioid Court, a participant must attend ambulatory detox daily and report to court five days a week. At St. Mary’s ambulatory detox, a participant may be eligible to receive suboxone, a prescription therapy that decreases a person’s cravings for opioids and helps prevent an overdose.
In order for this to work, the defendant has to want the help. Judge Maier said, if they do, you must strike when the iron is hot. Unfortunately, he says if a person is in the throes of addiction they don’t necessarily see the need. Others don’t even see it as a possibility due to the cost of treatment.
Judge Maier said a concerted community effort is required, and they will work with partners to find a way to cover treatment costs.
There are now 14 Opioid Intervention Courts operating in New York State, and more are in the planning stages.