Chicago Police Offer Treatment to Nonviolent Drug Sellers

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Under a drug-diversion program started last year by the Chicago Police Department, when police round up gang members in narcotics investigations, some nonviolent sellers with drug habits are offered the chance to go through treatment and avoid criminal charges. Other cities have experimented with similar programs as heroin-related deaths have skyrocketed, including in Chicago, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. One arrestee told Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago researcher who is evaluating the program, that he would prefer to go through outpatient treatment instead of in-patient detox. He said he had to care for an ailing, elderly parent at home. “If you don’t like what they’re offering you when you get there, you’re free to go,” Pollack explained. “It’s up to you.”

Later, the man asked Lt. Matthew Cline, who oversees the diversion initiative, how the man was picked to be in it. “It’s your lucky day,” Cline said. “Hopefully you make the most of it.” About 30 people have agreed to enter drug treatment through the initiative. An organization called Haymarket Center offers in-patient detoxification treatment and one called Thresholds does outpatient treatment. Gabriela Zapata-Alma of Thresholds said she’s worked with about 16 people in the initiative. All are black, about half are women, and they include patients over 50 years old and under 25. Many suffer mental illnesses. Most are heroin addicts, and many say their parents struggled with substance-abuse addiction, too. Treatment has proved successful for many participants, who’ve been able to get full-time jobs or go back to school, Zapata-Alma said. Others have gotten “sucked back into the chaos of their daily lives,” she said. “It’s hard to focus on treatment when you don’t know what you’re going to eat.”

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