Federal, county and city court officials are looking at Buffalo, N.Y.’s new opioid crisis intervention court as a potential model solution to the epidemic of heroin and opioid overdoses that continue to devastate families and communities, taxing local governments, first responders and the criminal justice system, NPR reports. “Right now we’re trying to save them. I’m trying to save their life,” says Judge Craig Hannah, who presides over the first-in-the-nation experiment that aims to fast-track addicts into wraparound treatment before adjudicating their criminal cases. “I want them to have another sunset, another time with their family, to see another Christmas.”
Buffalo’s opiate court is an iteration of the traditional drug court where an addicted nonviolent offender is channeled into recovery as an alternative to jail and a chance at a reduced sentence. The necessity of a special opiate court underscores the crippling severity of the drug overdose and addiction crisis, which killed 64,000 Americans from February 2016 to February 2017. The big difference is speed: If the defendant wants help to kick heroin or opioids, Hannah and his team hit “pause” on the criminal charges to get the person into treatment fast, often within hours or the next morning. “Right from arraignment, we put the clock on hold. We turn off the court reporter, everything’s off the record, and we’re talking about getting you help,” Hannah says. “And once we get you help and get you stabilized, we put the criminal case back on the calendar.” Usually that’s on the calendar of the city’s long-established drug court with a chance to get the criminal charges reduced or even dismissed.