Pilot Program Gives People With Addiction A Choice

By Britni de la Cretaz 10/05/17

The new diversion program is part of Massachusetts' “toolkit” for fighting the opioid crisis.

Judge and lawyers speaking in the courtroom

Taking a page from other police departments in Massachusetts who are focusing on helping people struggling with addiction to get treatment instead of jail time, the city of Worcester has announced a new pilot program that gives people arrested for purchasing drugs the option of entering a treatment program instead of facing prosecution for a crime.

The program, called the Buyer Diversion Treatment Alternative, is a partnership between the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS), the Worcester Police Department, and the Worcester District Attorney’s office, reports the Telegram & Gazette. The team will be working with Spectrum Health Systems, a local service provider, to supply the treatment end of the equation.

“If we can perfect this model here in Worcester, we’ll take it to other communities across the commonwealth,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said at a press conference. Jennifer Queally, undersecretary of public safety at EOPSS and a former assistant district attorney in Worcester County, called the program “compassionate” and said it “promotes public safety.”

In 2015, the Gloucester, Massachusetts police department launched its ANGEL Initiative, which allows drug users to walk into a police department and turn in their drugs and paraphernalia without risk of arrest if they were willing to seek treatment. Out of that, the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) was formed, and the organization has trained over 200 police departments in the U.S. under this alternative treatment model.

According to their website, 59 departments in Massachusetts alone have received training, including the Worcester Police Department. It is unclear whether these initiatives will work in tandem with each other, or function separately.

Polito called the diversion program part of the state’s “toolkit” for combating the opioid crisis. In 2016, 1,933 people in Massachusetts died from opioid-related deaths. Fifty-six of those deaths were in Worcester. That number was down from 77 in 2015, and Polito said that deaths were down 5% in the first half of 2017 compared with the same time period last year. She credits the reduction to the variety of programs the state has put in place. This includes equipping all first responders with the overdose-reversal drug Narcan and expanding access to treatment beds across the state.

“These things are adding up to have an impact,” Polito said.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.