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June 24, 2019 -- Recognizing that opioid addiction is a crippling disease with ripple effects throughout the entire County – the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH), the District Attorney’s Office, County Health Department and the Port Chester Police Department have teamed up to intervene with would-be opioid purchasers to get them the addiction treatment they need. This is the first time the District Attorney’s Office has connected individuals identified through undercover narcotics operations with opioid treatment services instead of charging them with criminal possession.

See full press conference video on Westchester DA YouTube Channel

The County agencies teamed up for this new program involving the DA’s Office to assist the Port Chester Police Department, in concert with care and service providers, to seek out people in need of opioid treatment, and helped connect them to Westchester’s system of care.

The program specifically targets people with addiction who have been identified as buyers during undercover narcotics investigations. Rather than be arrested, they are offered rehabilitation services through the successful programs of DCMH. This is an innovative approach showing how law enforcement and social services can work together for a positive outcome and to fight the scourge of addiction in our communities.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “Strategic thinking and new ideas are the best way for us to stay ahead of Westchester’s unfortunate opioid epidemic. It is imperative that we, as a community, work together to identify the causes of this epidemic, and work directly with the people who need help to stem the tide of addiction and abuse. By connecting users with other people who have walked a mile in their shoes, we are able to better assess their problems, needs and the reasons they may be using in the first place. I want to thank everyone involved who combined efforts to help people reach the services they needed to achieve a better future.”

Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino said: “Identifying those addicted to opioids and other narcotics when they are most vulnerable is key to moving them away from the criminal elements on whom they rely. It is with this in mind, that we have launched this initiative with the support and leadership of Commissioner Orth who brings decades of experience in treating addiction and its underlying causes. We commend Port Chester Police Chief Conway for taking this bold step with us.”

The program is an extension of the District Attorney’s Opioid Response Initiative (ORI). The pilot program was launched in Port Chester in April with the support and leadership of Port Chester Police Chief Richard Conway. A yearlong investigation into fatal heroin overdoses, including wiretaps and undercover surveillance, conducted by PCPD, in collaboration with Greenwich, CT Police and the DA’s Office, resulted in the arrest of a dozen dealers, and, it also identified dozens of users during the surveillance period. In keeping with the District Attorney’s desire to pursue alternatives to incarceration, he decided to offer the purchasers the opportunity to seek opioid treatment in lieu of being prosecuted for possession.   

As a result, at least 30 Port Chester users were either connected with, or reconnected with, support services including assessment, detox, inpatient and outpatient services almost immediately upon request.

Port Chester Police Chief Richard Conway said: “The scourge of opioid addiction can only be effectively addressed with multifaceted approach.  Efforts which are directed at only a single aspect of the problem have been historically ineffective. Port Chester has been fortunate to be chosen to participate with the Westchester County District Attorney's Office and the Westchester County DCMH in the addiction diversion program. The concept and resources provided by District Attorney Scarpino and Westchester County DCMH Commissioner Orth fueled the project. This, coupled with the efforts of the District Attorney's Investigators, Police Officers and behavioral health professionals who took on this daunting challenge, formed a lifeline connecting those in crisis with the help they so desperately needed. The Port Chester Police Department is proud to be a part of this effort.”

The successful rollout in Port Chester is just the beginning. The program will begin shortly in two other communities this summer.

DCMH Commissioner Michael Orth said: “Westchester is fortunate to partner with law enforcement across the County, and the work done across our systems in Port Chester and other communities will make a difference for the people who live there. DCMH, through our network of providers and colleague agencies, and support from state agencies like OMH, OASAS and DOH, is finding more ways to get into the community and meet people where they are and need us the most.”

How does addiction diversion outreach work?
Once user/buyers are identified in criminal investigations, the individuals are then approached by a team of law enforcement and social services professionals to inform them how they were identified (through legal surveillance) and offer them the option of treatment and support services instead of arrest.

As a collaborative County, local municipal and law enforcement effort, resources from many areas are brought together. In addition to staffing and manpower from the DA’s Office and local police, the Department of Health (DOH) provides the funding for the Peer staff person participating from Open Access, and DCMH provides the funding for the Crisis Stabilization Team.

Additional staff and support comes from DCMH’s Opioid and Alcohol Unit, Adult Mental Health Unit, Lexington Center, PEOPLE-USA and numerous providers around Westchester who agree to make the needs of the identified individuals a priority.

Steve Miccio, CEO of PEOPLE-USA, Inc. said: “PEOPLE-USA believes that an important tool of connecting with people in need is meeting them face-to-face with people who have lived experience like their own. While this model has been proven effective time and again, it is wonderful to see the success that broad collaboration can bring.”

Doreen Lockwood, Program Director of The Lexington Center for Recovery, Inc. said: “Our Open Access team welcomes the opportunity to join this innovative partnership to assist individuals with substance use disorders work through barriers and to enroll in treatment.  Our peer specialist by sharing his lived experience is a unique position to engage people into the treatment process. This wrap around service increases the odds of people receiving the services they need in a timely manner.”

County Legislator Margaret Cunzio, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, said, “Programs like this one bring together many agencies that try to help those who may not receive the help they need. I am very supportive of this program and I hope to see more programs like this around the county. This program helps the individual get on track and give them a chance for a new start.”

speaker at podium

DA Scarpino addressing the press.

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