Court of­fers op­tion for opi­oid de­fen­dants

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ariél Zangla azangla@free­manon­line.com ArielAtFree­man on Twit­ter

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.

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