WATERTOWN — Opioid users going through the criminal justice system can now receive immediate treatment through a new program in Watertown City Court.
Officials announced that the Watertown Opioid Court program began this week, thanks to a $150,000 state grant that the Credo Community Center received this year.
The new court will meet three times a week.
Judge James P. Murphy, the new administrative judge for the Fifth Judicial District, said opioid court was initiated by Janet DiFiore, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and of the state of New York.
“Our goal is to get them treatment and out of the criminal judicial system,” Judge Murphy said.
Ben Cobb, who oversees the city court, said Tuesday a couple of opioid users have already been identified to go through the opioid court.
City Court Judge Anthony M. Neddo is leading the new initiative.
“The goal of this court is to save lives and not worry about the criminal proceedings until we can help participants stabilize and get to a better place,” Judge Neddo said.
Watertown is one of 10 courts in the state to receive the grant from the state Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services.
Under the pilot program, the opioid court will identify opioid users who are at risk of overdose when they enter the criminal justice system.
They would be immediately engaged and offered medication for addiction treatment. The prosecution of their cases would be suspended while they receive treatment.
The court will require frequent judicial interaction with defendants as well as on-site case management and drug testing.
The state funding will be used to hire two positions at Credo. The two positions will provide critical clinical and peer support services to defendants who suffer from opioid addiction.
Randi L. Forbes, Credo’s outreach and off-site coordinator, will be in court Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to help opioid users who can benefit from the program.
Police officers, who are on the first line of the defense in helping addicts, will help the judge identify which opioid users can be helped.
In court, Judge Neddo will call the person up to the bench after they agree to participate, she said.
“Then I’m included in the discussion,” she said.
The local opioid court will be open to all defendants who have criminal cases and struggle with opioid addiction.
“It’s really a community effort, which is what I’d like to see,” Mrs. Forbes said.
Heroin and prescription opioid abuse has created a national epidemic.
“All you have to do is read the newspapers to know what we’re getting into.” Judge Murphy said.
More than 64,000 people in the country died from overdoses in 2016, two-thirds of these deaths involving opioids.
“That’s more people than who died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined,” Judge Murphy said.
In New York alone, there were more than 2,300 opioid deaths in 2016.
As Credo has progressed with more of an off-site program to help addicts, there’s been progress made in the community and the opioid court will continue to help, Mrs. Forbes said.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, but I think we’re on the right path,” she said.
As of mid-August, deaths related to opiate overdoses were at two in the county, according to statistics from the Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s office, compared to a total of nine in 2018.
Judge Neddo thanked Judge James Tormey, administrative judge for the Fifth Judicial District for 19 years, for bringing the opioid court to Watertown. Judge Tormey died in June after a brief illness.