CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn — As each day passes, the opioid epidemic in the United States appears to be worsening.
While officials on both the local and federal level are doing what they can to combat the crisis, officials in Brooklyn announced plans that takes it a step further.
“We’re going to change how we approach these cases,” announced Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales.
The D.A. joined forces with the NYPD and the NYC Council to launch a groundbreaking diversion program that aims to assist individuals who suffer from drug dependency and misuse.
Brooklyn CLEAR gives those offenders facing charges an opportunity to get treatment instead of jail time.
“The idea is very simple instead of processing these misdemeanor arrests the traditional way,” Gonzales said at a press conference Tuesday. “We’re going to give the people who get arrested and option to seek treatment and other services.”
Individuals become eligible to participate in the program only after receiving a desk appearance ticket.
A peer mentor is dispatched after the arrest and connects with the offender at the precinct where they learn about their options.
Those who opt in, receive a 7-day window to visit a local rehab center which will then begin the treatment.
“Instead of their case going back to court, my office will decline to prosecute that case only if they’re actively and meaningfully participating in their own treatment,” D.A. Gonzales said.
Brooklyn father Abraham Klein knows all too well about the heartache behind opioid addiction.
Six years ago, he lost his daughter following a drug overdose in the family’s home in Borough Park. He says a program like CLEAR would’ve saved her life.
“The fact that she could lose her loving family and happy life,” an emotional Klein said, “was at times not powerful enough because she needed to fight her addiction.”
The program in many ways is a lesson learned from the city’s approach to drug abuse in the 80s and the 90s where prosecution was priority and treatment was an after-thought.
“Why is society shocked that there is a revolving door with the same people that are going through these problems over and over again,” Councilmember Mark Treyger remarked. “That’s why I said, there’s a difference between trying to manage a crisis and solve a crisis – we have to solve this crisis and the time is now.”
Brooklyn CLEAR is currently running in six precincts in Brooklyn that report the highest overdose rates in the borough.
There are plans to expand the program borough-wide in the near future.