Beyond punishment: cops and courts rethink strategy
What is the role of law enforcement in battling the epidemic? Many officers and judges have reached the conclusion that imprisoning addicts is not enough.
“I don’t think arrests are going to enable us to get our arms around this problem,” said Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy at a forum in March at the Garrison School. “We’re doing so much, trying so hard, doing so well [with arrests and convictions], and the problem is getting worse.”
At the same time, police officers are saving lives. On Sept. 5, three Putnam County Sheriff’s deputies saved a Patterson man who apparently overdosed, by administering a nasal spray known as Narcan that acts as an opioid antidote.
Over the past few years, as more people have become addicted, two extreme positions appear to have formed. At one end of the continuum is Sheriff Richard Jones of Butler County, Ohio, where the death rate from overdoses is three times that of the Highlands. He has long refused to allow his deputies to carry Narcan. “We don’t do the shots for bee stings, we don’t inject diabetic people with insulin. When does it stop?” he has said. “I’m not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick a needle in their arm.”
At the other is Eric Adams, a police officer in Laconia, New Hampshire, which without summer tourists is a city about the size of Beacon. In 2014 he became the first officer in the country with the title of prevention, enforcement and treatment coordinator. His business cards read: “The Laconia Police Department recognizes that substance misuse is a disease. We understand you can’t fight this alone.”
Earlier this year, Adams was profiled in The New York Times. A police officer who shows up to assist addicts and not arrest them is news. He listens to the scanner for overdoses, then drives to the scene in an unmarked cruiser. The moments after an addict wakes up from an overdose can be an excellent time to convince him or her to seek treatment, and Adams offers a ride.
The officer keeps a spreadsheet of every person he has helped. By his count, as of July, he had encountered 204 addicts: 92 are in treatment, 84 are in recovery, and zero have died.
We wanted to find out more about how law enforcement in the Highlands views the epidemic. Where do we fall between Sheriff Jones and Officer Adams? We decided to start where many addicts in Putnam County who are arrested end up, if they’re lucky — Drug Treatment Court.
This series has four parts.
In Part 1, reporters Michael Turton and Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong spoke with the parents of young men who struggled with opioid addiction. One died, one survived, but they faced many of the same obstacles in getting treatment. We asked them to share their experiences, hoping it would provide a road map.
Intro // Sasha’s Story // Max’s Story
In Part 2, we examined the role of law enforcement and the courts in battling the epidemic. Turton looked at the work of the Putnam County Drug Court, while Jeff Simms spent time with Beacon and Dutchess County police officers who are at the front lines.
In Part 3, we explained treatment options. Brian PJ Cronin profiled the Dutchess County Stabilization Center, an innovative first stop for those in crisis, while Anita Peltonen and Armstrong visited treatment centers at Graymoor in Garrison, Arms Acres in Carmel and CoveCare Center (formerly Putnam Family & Community Services) in Carmel.
Finally, in Part 4, we shared the thoughts of specialists, counselors, doctors and those struggling with addiction about what they feel should take priority in addressing the problem.
We appreciate your feedback about the series and thoughts about how best to address the epidemic. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment below.