WORCESTER- The Worcester Police Department announced the Buyer Diversion Treatment Alternative (BDTA), a pilot program which seeks to reduce the number of arrests for low level substance misuse offenses by diverting low-level drug-buyers away from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs.
The BDTA was announced on Thursday, Sept. 28 in conjunction with a new partnership between the WPD, the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, and the Executive Office of Public Safety. It will be funded by a $99,000 award from the Baker-Polito Administration. The funding will support housing and treatment for addicts, emphasizing recovery options over incarceration.
“Each day they’re on patrol, police officers see firsthand the destruction wrought by the opioid crisis,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Dan Bennett. “This program is unique because it gives the police a mechanism to redirect drug buyers toward treatment so that they can break the cycle of addiction.”
Officials like Lt. Governor Karyn Polito hope the program’s compassionate approach will further eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and allow law enforcement to focus their resources on the sellers and distributors of illicit substances rather than the addicts.
“The tragic, human toll of the opioid crisis challenges us all to develop new and innovative ways to approach law enforcement and substance misuse issues,” said Polito. “Offering those suffering from addiction an alternative path to treatment and recovery will we hope deliver individuals a chance to change their own lives as the criminal justice system focuses on more serious crimes in our communities.”
District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. praised the WPD for the innovative way it has managed the opioid epidemic, setting up prescription drop-off boxes and training even civilian government employees to administer Naloxone to those suffering from an overdose. The number of opioid-related deaths in Worcester rose steadily from 29 in 2012 to 76 in 2015, but dropped to 56 in 2016. The number of opioid-related deaths has declined 5% statewide in the first six months of 2017.
Early emphasized that addiction is a law enforcement and public health issue both, and that the best way to manage the crisis is by partnering with other government and community agencies.
“We’re doing this and it’s a different way to do it,” said Early. “It’s good government. [Addiction] rewires the brain. It’s not a choice. It’s a disease.”
“If we can perfect this model here in Worcester, it will allow us then to take this to other gateway cities here in the Commonwealth and have another tool in the toolkit to combat opioid addiction,” said Polito.
The grant will allow the WPD to hire a case coordinator to work with the DA’s office, as well as a case manager to act as a liaison between law enforcement and the treatment centers to which eligible individuals will be referred.
The agencies have partnered with Spectrum Health Systems, specifically the Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Support Center in Worcester, to assure there will be treatment options available to every eligible offender that wishes to take advantage of the program.