Staten Island Advance: New HOPE Program Offers Treatment Instead of Jail to Staten Islanders With Drug Problem
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2017

The Legal Aid Society joined with elected officials and community members on Staten Island to announce the formation of the Heroin Overdose Prevention & Education program, a groundbreaking new initiative designed to combat the borough's heroin and opioid scourge by diverting low-level drug offenders into treatment instead of into court and jail.




Staten Island Advance
New HOPE program offers treatment instead of jail to Staten Islanders with drug problem
By Frank Donnelly
February 15, 2017

There's HOPE for Staten Islanders with drug problems.

Hope in the form of the Heroin Overdose Prevention & Education program, a groundbreaking new initiative designed to combat the borough's heroin and opioid scourge by diverting low-level drug offenders into treatment instead of into court and jail.

District Attorney Michael E. McMahon announced the rollout of the program while flanked by the borough president, law enforcement officials and members of Staten Island's legal and substance-abuse services community at a press briefing in his St. George office.

"It's an epidemic that's become a plague," McMahon said, adding that some derogatorily refer to the borough as "Heroin Island." "We are announcing here that we are the 'Island of Hope.' To put it simply, this program is about saving lives. We haven't been getting people into treatment soon enough."

McMahon said there have been 100 suspected drug overdose deaths in the borough since he took office on Jan. 1 of last year.

In that same period, there have been 80 overdose-reversals by NYPD officers using the drug Naloxone, he said.

Those figures only account for victims found by police, so officials suspect the actual numbers could be 30 percent higher.

McMahon said the HOPE program is the first of its kind in the city and state.

MISDEMEANORS, DATs

The initiative is available to individuals arrested on misdemeanor or lower level drug-possession crimes who qualify for a desk appearance ticket (DAT).

Such individuals typically have little or no criminal history and no outstanding warrants against them.

It's estimated that between 500 and 600 such people are busted annually.

"This is someone who's clearly using the drugs, not someone's who's selling the drugs," said McMahon, who said Mayor Bill de Blasio backs the program.

Those individuals will be processed at the precinct where the district attorney's HOPE director will arrange for a peer coach to meet them to discuss the HOPE program and provide Naloxone training after their release.

The peer coach will encourage the person to visit a community-based Resource and Recovery Center - either the Next Step Recovery Center operated by Community Health Action of Staten Island on the North Shore or a South Shore facility run by Christopher's Reason and the Resource Training and Counseling Center.

The individual must then visit one of the centers for an assessment and treatment recommendations within seven days - which is the date they are to appear in court to answer their DAT.

If they do so, they need not appear in court on the seventh day, and their case will be adjourned for an additional 30 days.

'MEANINGFULLY ENGAGES'

If the person "meaningfully engages" in treatment before the 37th day after arrest the district attorney will decline to prosecute, and they'll have no criminal record.

For those who fail or drop out of the program, the original charge will stand, and their case will be processed normally.

Officials insist the new initiative doesn't mean they've gone soft on crime.

Authorities said they are actively working to identify, track down and lock up drug dealers.

But those collars alone won't eliminate the drug crisis, they said.

"If you think we can arrest our way out of this epidemic, you are mistaken," said Borough President James Oddo. "I think this program is a message to the people of Staten Island. We are attacking this epidemic in every way possible."

Assistant Chief Edward Delatorre, the NYPD's borough commander, called the program "a great idea that makes sense."

McMahon said the program will be independently assessed and evaluated for its effectiveness.

LAUNCHED JAN. 17

He said HOPE was actually launched on Jan. 17.

Thus far, 28 people have been offered the program, 19 of whom have gone to a resource and recovery center, said the D.A. Several others have agreed to follow-up at a center, while one person has refused, he said.

Seven participants have been deemed "meaningfully engaged," said McMahon, and his office has declined to pursue charges against them.

McMahon said a subsequent low-level drug-possession arrest after an individual has completed the program doesn't automatically disqualify him or her from entering it again. The circumstances would have to be evaluated.

Christopher Pisciotta, senior attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society on Staten Island, said HOPE links those with drug problems to helpful resources the criminal justice system can't provide and without the burden and stigma of a criminal record.

"We must continue to help those in need to help themselves change the path of their lives," he said.

In a statement, Assemblyman Ronald Castorina (R-South Shore) said he supports HOPE, and the need to battle the heroin epidemic "in as many ways as we can."

However, he also counseled caution.

"We cannot allow for repeat offenders to slip through the cracks of our criminal justice system through well-intentioned programs like the HOPE initiative," said Castorina.