Opioid News: NYC and Orange County

As reported in the Times Herald-Record, Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler announced that police have charged a man with selling the heroin that is suspected to have killed a Maybrook woman over the weekend. The announcement followed a weekend that saw four apparent opioid overdose deaths in Orange County. Montgomery town police got the call on Friday for the apparent overdose death of a 24-year-old woman in Maybrook. That investigation led police to Jay Pagan, 32, of Maybrook, who sold the woman heroin shortly before her death.

Officials charged Pagan with third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, felonies. He was arraigned and sent to Orange County Jail on $25,000 bail or $75,000 bond. Prosecutors will present the case to the grand jury, and the investigation is continuing. The other victims were a 37-year-old woman from the Town of Monroe, a 30-year-old man from the Town of Goshen and a 28-year-old woman from the Town of Hudson Valley.

Hoovler said:

People would be up in arms if there were four homicides in a weekend … It’s time that we all stand up and take notice of just how bad this has gotten … We’re losing four people over the course of a weekend and nobody wants to talk about it.”

In 2017, 88 people died in Orange County from confirmed or suspected opioid overdoses. Hoovler said the three-pronged approach of prevention, treatment and enforcement still stands, but much more investment is needed in the first two so police can do the third: Longer, more repetitive anti-drug programs in schools rather than short-term classes, and treatment on demand for addicts.

New Bronx Opioid Treatment Court Looks to Help Addicts Kick Their Addiction

As reported in the New York Law Journal, the Bronx Criminal Court has opened a new program to steer low-level offenders at risk of an opioid overdose into treatment.

The Bronx program, called Overdose Avoidance and Recovery, is in its eighth week of operation and has guided more than 50 defendants into treatment. It is the second such program established in New York state. The first opened in Buffalo last May. It has attracted the attention of courts and other justice system stakeholders who are interested in emulating the model elsewhere.

In the Bronx, offenders charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance who are at risk of overdose, are offered intensive drug treatment rather than being hit with jail time. If the offenders are successful with their treatment program, their cases are dismissed and sealed.

“OAR is not about crime and punishment, but about compassion and recovery,” said George Grasso, supervising judge for Bronx Criminal Court and one of the judges presiding over an overdose avoidance program.

On Monday, Grasso invited reporters and TV cameras into his courtroom to get a view of the proceedings.

Participants in the OAR track were not named, and were called out by their order on the day’s calendar. “Calendar No. 4” was not present for proceedings because he was in an inpatient treatment program at Mount Sinai Hospital, explained his attorney, Maya Graham of the Legal Aid Society.

Grasso said he was appreciative the offender opted to switch to an inpatient program after the outpatient program wasn’t getting results.

“We will, in this proceeding, bend over backwards to help him,” Grasso said.

Later in the proceedings, after the cameras departed, Grasso called “calendar No. 5,” a slender man with long hair pulled back into a ponytail who was wearing jeans and a dark jacket. Grasso said it was the court’s goal to help this particular offender beat a fentanyl addiction.

Carmen Alcantara of Bronx Community Solutions told the judge she would be able to enroll the man into an outpatient treatment program at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, which offers detox services as part of the recovery track.

Grasso asked the man if he understood the plan, but he was silent for a moment before turning to speak to his attorney from The Bronx Defenders. The man shook his head several times.

The Bronx Defenders attorney asked Grasso to repeat the question, which he did, with an added warning that fentanyl “will kill you.”

“Every time you use it, you got to assume it’s going to be the last time,” Grasso said. The man then agreed to leave with Alcantara to get into the treatment program.

The program in the Bronx differs from the Opioid Intervention Court set up in Buffalo in that participants are drawn from a wider array of nonviolent offenses, such as defendants charged with burglary, said Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah, who presides over the program. Hannah said that there have been more than 230 participants in the program in Buffalo, one of whom succumbed to an overdose-related death.

Christopher Deutsch, communications director for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said the opioid treatment programs at work in Buffalo and the Bronx are best viewed as an enhancement of the traditional drug court model, which typically involves a full battery of services to help offenders get their lives on track.

Because of the dangers of opioid abuse, rapid responses are often needed to save defendants’ lives, Deutsch said. The treatment court models now in use in New York can allow courts to move swiftly.

“When it comes to opioids, any delay in treatment can be deadly,” Deutsch said. “We’ve got to find a way to respond faster.”

Deutsch said that since the intervention program opened in Buffalo, he has spoken to drug court professionals in other jurisdictions who are interested in adapting the model in their own communities, though the challenge is often ensuring there is enough “treatment infrastructure”—or beds in local facilities—to handle the offenders who seek help.

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