Writing in the U.S. Justice Department’s OJP Blog, Alan R. Hanson, an acting assistant attorney general, says a federally funded opiate intervention court in Buffalo has diverted 113 men and woman to treatment. To date, none of the participants have died, a significant achievement considering the grave dangers of opioids, Hanson wrote. (The prototype court was profiled by the Buffalo News on May 31.) Erie County, N.Y., had 296 confirmed deaths due to overdose in 2016, and overdose risks have increased since the synthetic opioid fentanyl entered the illegal drug market. All Buffalo arrestees are now tested for opiate use. Those found to have an addiction problem are placed in inpatient or outpatient treatment, depending on their needs. The distinctive element of the Buffalo opiate court is its Rapid Integration Team, which links individuals to treatment immediately, instead of within 30 to 90 days as in traditional drug courts.
A grant from the Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance helps fund Buffalo’s pilot program, covering costs such as court staffing and treatment programs. Drug courts have operated since the mid-90’s, created in response to the epidemic of crack cocaine. Approximately 3,000 are now in place throughout the U.S. Their purpose is to provide treatment instead of prison time for nonviolent persons who have been criminally charged and who have a substance abuse problem.