FINDING HOPE: Pilot program offers low-level offenders addiction treatment rather than jail time

Posted at 1:56 PM, Nov 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-06 00:19:37-05

Part of a new Idaho Department of Health and Welfare grant, aimed at defeating the opioid epidemic in Idaho, will go toward funding a new pilot program with the Boise Police Department.

The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program will offer a handful of non-violent offenders with opioid addiction treatment rather than jail time.

"We're not here to here to give a 'get out of jail free card' to drug dealers. That's not what we're after here," Boise Police Neighborhood Contact Officer Terry Weir said. "It's for people who are truly addicted who have no other option."

The program comes as more and more law enforcement agencies across the country begin accepting the concept that "you can't arrest your way out of an opioid problem", dealing with the same offenders time after time.

"We were still dealing with the same addicts over and over again," Officer Weir said. "Putting them in jail wasn't solving the problem, in other words."

Weir says many of those addicts never sought out a life of crime, only falling victim to addiction after a doctor's prescription.

"A lot of the people I come across in these cases have never done an illegal drug in their life until they got addicted through an injury, work-related or athletic, and then they get addicted to prescription pills," Officer Weir said. "I think for us, we have a responsibility to look at that from the humane side of things and go, 'Hey, there's maybe a different option here than putting someone in jail who was never meant to go there.'"

The 10 participants in the pilot program will be selected by Boise Police officers based on certain criteria, only considering non-violent offenders, and most importantly they have to want the treatment.

If those involved successfully complete the outpatient program, including both therapy and medication-assisted treatment, their original charge can be reduced or dismissed. And on the flip side, "if they're not successful in treatment, they may end up facing the charges that they originally put on hold," Rosie Andueza with the Department of Health and Welfare.

Although the $100,000 program will be funded by taxpayer money, Officer Weir says in the long run, it's the cheaper option.

"If we can get them into treatment as opposed to being arrested over and over and over again, that keeps them out of the jail system, that keeps them out of the prison population as well, and it also keeps them out of the hospitals," Weir said.

"When they overdose and they're staying in the hospital and they're in the ICU, that costs a lot of money and a lot of these people don't have insurance. We're still paying that bill as well. So I would ask anybody, what's more important? Do we divert them one time and see if it helps them out, or do you put them back into jail or the hospital 10 or 11 more times?"