August 31, 2023

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah announced today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, the launch of the Westchester Overdose Prevention and Treatment Initiative (OPT-In), a diversion program that will offer community-based treatment and services instead of prosecution to individuals with substance use disorders arrested for misdemeanor drug possession in Westchester. The pre-arraignment initiative will begin in September with White Plains Public Safety with the goal to expand the program countywide to all police departments in Westchester County.

DA Rocah said: “On this International Overdose Awareness Day, the Westchester DA’s Office recognizes the impact that drug overdoses have on our communities and commits to investing in critical and timely prevention and intervention programs like OPT-In. Through our meaningful partnerships with health care providers, county health agencies, the Legal Aid Society and law enforcement, OPT-In will redirect individuals in need of drug treatment away from prosecution. We are particularly grateful to our White Plains health care partners, Innovative Health Systems, St. John’s Riverside, White Plains Hospital and the Mental Health Association of Westchester, for their collaboration in launching this new program.”

OPT-In will connect participants, following arrest, with peer mentors who will explain the program and its benefits, and offer naloxone kits provided by the Urban League of Westchester. Peer mentors will direct participants to community health care providers who will develop individualized treatment plans.

Participants will have 30 days to have meaningful engagement in their treatment plan, and after a participant’s successful completion of the program, the DA’s office will decline prosecution. Individuals who do not undergo an assessment or do not meaningfully engage in their treatment plans will be required to appear in court as originally scheduled.

OPT-In expands on the District Attorney’s commitment to pre-arraignment diversion programs, such as Fresh Start, which the District Attorney was instrumental in bringing to Westchester in 2021. Fresh Start has now assisted 428 individuals who faced low-level, non-violent criminal charges.

Sherry Wallach, Deputy Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Westchester said: “We are happy to support programs like OPT-In, where all members of the criminal justice system are working together to create alternatives to incarceration and prosecution. Programs like OPT-In prevent people from being sucked into the criminal justice system by providing necessary resources, which will ultimately prevent their risk of recidivism and provide better support for our communities.”

White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong said: "White Plains Public Safety is proud to partner with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office on a crucial program that will provide meaningful resources to those struggling with substance use disorders while positively impacting public safety and reducing recidivism.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “Since our administration first took office, we have consistently looked for ways to better serve the people of Westchester County, especially those who are struggling with addiction. With the collaborative leadership of District Attorney Mimi Rocah and her team, our Department of Community Mental Health and our community-based partners throughout Westchester, OPT-In is a great step toward connecting more people living with addiction with the treatment and resources they need.”

Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health Michael Orth said: “DCMH and our partners with the Westchester County Opioid Response Initiative are constantly looking for ways to stem this current epidemic. OPT-In offers a new diversion model for people with addiction issues, at what may literally be a turning point in their life. In this new program, connecting with a peer can help one seek recovery and serve to steer them away from continued use and criminal justice involvement.”

OPT-In's harm-reduction approach is developed with the mission to create a proportionate and fair response to misdemeanor cases involving individuals with substance use disorders and offer immediate intervention during the most vulnerable period between an arrest and arraignment, which can be up to 20 days in some cases.

The goal of the program is to ultimately reduce fatal and non-fatal overdoes in Westchester County. According to the New York State Department of Health, there were 131 fatal drug overdoses in Westchester County in 2022, with more than 400 arrested and charged with misdemeanor drug possession.

Request for more information or questions about OPT-In can be directed to the DA’s Office at (914) 995-3415.

Anna Young, Public Information Officer
(914) 995-6551