The City of Buffalo is first in the nation with a new pilot program that helps opioid addicts charged with crimes get into treatment.
Buffalo's Opiate Crisis Intervention Court is the first of its kind in the nation, funded by a federal grant. Under the supervision of Judge Craig Hannah, individuals who are arrested and found to have an opioid addiction have an opportunity to see their criminal case put on hold if they go immediately into treatment.
Court officials say since the program opened on May 1, 43 individuals have been enrolled.
"We deal with them every day," said Judge Hannah. "They go to treatment every day, they meet with me after they go to treatment and we also have weekend intervention. For the next 30 days I'm going to be the most important person in their lives, but I tell them they are the most important person. And I always coach them to make sure that if they ever need any help or assistance, we're no more than a phone call away."
Judge Hannah says defendants will still be held accountable for charges against them. However, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn revealed that under some circumstances, successful treatment could result in more leniency be prosecutors.
"We could have the option to dismiss the charges. We could have the option to give a reduced plea," said Flynn. "We have multiple options available to us if the person successfully goes through the program, as we do now in drug court to a certain extent."
Supporters of the opiate intervention court say the ultimate goal is to save lives. According to Erie County Health Department numbers released at a Wednesday morning news conference, 66 deaths are confirmed to be the result of opioid overdoses while 110 more are suspected.