Court offers option for opioid defendants
Village Justice Matthew Parker said he probably presides over two to three criminal cases each week that involve opioid use or possession.
Now, through a new partnership with the Institute for Family Health, opioid abusers who are arrested in Ellenville can be referred by Parker to the Institute’s Ellenville Family Health Center for next-day medication-assisted treatment.
The initiative, according to a press release from the institute, allows arrested individuals to voluntarily register for treatment during
their court hearing. Those choosing medical treatment for addiction also can consent to have information about their treatment adherence shared with the court. In those cases, Parker can use the information to consider more lenient sentencing, the release stated.
“I would work in conjunction with the district attorney and the defendant’s attorney to see if we all think that it’s an appropriate alternative for these people,” Parker said Wednesday. “It wouldn’t be just my decision alone.” He said each case will be evaluated individually and any treatment will not take the place of prosecution.
“What I’m looking to do, basically, is to establish a sort of mini-drug court, as they have up in Kingston for the misdemeanor levels of offenses that we see in the village and town courts,” the judge said. “So we can offer these people an opportunity to possibly turn their lives around.”
He said the court will be able to monitor a defendant’s treatment progress and decide, after a predetermined amount of time, whether an alternative sort of plea could be arranged. That way, a defendant might end up with a violation, rather than a more serious misdemeanor conviction, Parker said.
Parker said the program will be voluntary, though he has no way of knowing how many people he might refer for treatment. He said every community in the state is touched by opioid use and the Institute for Family Health program is a great tool for helping people.
The institute has promised to help everyone referred to it, regardless of that person’s ability to pay, Parker said.
Abigail Herron, director of psychiatry at the institute, said no one will be turned away for treatment for not being able to pay. She also said the staff at the institute can assist people in applying for health insurance.
Herron said all the treatments will be offered on an outpatient basis and that the institute is confident it can meet the demands of Parker’s court.
“We’re very happy to offer this alternative to the people of Ellenville that suffer from opioid use disorders,” Dr. Virna Little, the institute’s senior vice president for Psychosocial Services and Community Affairs, said in the press release. “We now know that addiction is a disease which requires timely integrative care, not incarceration. By providing this alternative to entering the criminal justice system, we hope to build a healthier and thriving community.”
Parker said he was looking to establish treatment programs in the area when he was approached by representatives of the institute, including Little. He said they spoke about the problems they had in the community and the need for a treatment program.
The judge also said he was frustrated that a lot of services offered by the county are concentrated in Kingston.
“And it’s very difficult for individuals from Ellenville to get to Kingston,” he said.
With opioid use on the rise nationally, public health experts agree individuals should be medically treated for this form of substance abuse whenever possible, the release stated.
Parker said he hoped other courts will take notice of what is happening in the village of Ellenville and begin their own such programs.