Overdose detection mapping by first responders. Police station “safe zones” for drug addicts. A drug court better focused on recovery. Medication-assisted treatment in jails.
Hennepin County’s top criminal justice leaders spent Thursday morning debating holistic and practical initiatives in its continuing efforts to tackle the area’s opioid crisis. The group received the first major report from the county’s newly formed Opioid Strategic Planning Task Force, which looked at what’s working around the United States and whether it can be adapted locally.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) includes judges, mayors, council members, community corrections, law enforcement and city and county attorneys. The 40-page report, presented by CJCC director Jill Hermanutz, focused on prevention, treatment, rescue and recovery.
She highlighted overdose detection mapping, in which first responders would have an app on their phones and enter quick and accurate data in real time such as overdose history, type of drugs found at the scene and photographs of the drug’s packaging. The data can be used by law enforcement and health workers to identify trends and patterns.
Hermanutz also discussed a program where people struggling with drug addiction could drop by a police station and seek treatment help without fear of being arrested. A social worker would be embedded with police, and a group of volunteers would help the person through the recovery process. The program, developed in Gloucester, Mass., enrolled 90 percent of 417 people into treatment programs.
“It would be a safe zone,” said Hermanutz.
What triggered the most debate among the group was giving officers the discretion to divert low-level drug offenders, even some accused of felony-level crimes, to a community-based facility instead of jail. King County in Washington has had a similar program since 2011, and participants were 58 percent less likely to commit more crimes. Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County chief public defender, said she’s heard from law enforcement that they like this idea, but the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office hasn’t agreed to the diversion of felony-level offenders.
“We are also charging people with murder who share drugs with somebody else and they end up dying,” she said. “This is a deterrent for treatment.”
Other initiatives included quick response teams that follow up with overdose victims and the expansion of treatment services in jails. Hennepin County already has a social worker in the jail at night and offers up to 72 hours of methadone for inmates struggling with addiction. Changing the drug court model to involve more human services and fewer probation officers and judges also was suggested.
The group was encouraged by the transformation this summer of the behavioral health center at 1800 Chicago Av. in Minneapolis. It will provide an alternative to arrest for nonviolent offenders who have behavioral and mental health issues. The center has 16 beds and will soon open a triage center.
The public health subcommittee of the CJCC will evaluate the suggestions and decide which of them should be pursued.