The United States has long taken an aggressive stance on drug offenses, imprisoning people alleged to have sold, possessed, or used drugs. Because drug offenses can result in serious penalties, those accused of having a controlled substance illegally should consult with an Albany drug possession lawyer to find out what options are available to them for fighting accusations and minimizing penalties.

Now, however, some police departments are recognizing that simply arresting people who are addicted to drugs is not going to solve serious problems with addiction. This is especially true in light of the widespread opioid epidemic throughout the United States. Instead of trying to arrest their way out of the problem, the police department has developed an alternative approach to dealing with drug offenses which the Times Union reports is getting national attention.

A New Approach to Addressing Drug Offenses

According to the Times Union, early success has been found in a total of 16 communities nationwide, including within the city of Albany. These communities have all adopted a novel approach to addressing drug offenses that aims to help, rather than incarcerate.

The communities are trying out a program that makes it possible for police to divert low-level criminal offenders whose crimes are based on addiction, poverty, or mental illness so they do not end up within the criminal justice system and they, instead, are able to receive essential community support services.

The Albany police chief stepped down last year in order to help expand the new program in Albany, which is called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion or LEAD, and he is working now to help other communities implement methods that have proven to be effective in Albany at keeping people out of prison and allowing them to get help to rebuild their lives.

LEAD launched in April of 2016 in Albany after two other cities had already implemented the program. Since the launch of the program, more than 120 people have already been assigned to case managers who help them to find drug treatment programs, housing, and other support that they need.

The program is based on two core principles, including one that gives police officers discretion regarding whether to arrest someone or to divert arrest and instead get that person some help. Officers are entrusted to know who may be in need of assistance, versus who actually presents a threat and they’ve now been empowered to make this choice because there’s an alternative to simply arresting a person accused of wrongdoing.

The other core principle involves embracing a public health approach referred to as harm reduction, which recognizes that it doesn’t make sense to force people to get sober first because many people can’t or won’t get stop using drugs immediately and cutting them off from assistance due to their addiction is counterproductive.

It remains to be seen if this new approach will spread or not. However, those who live in Albany and who are accused of wrongdoing related to addiction should consult with an Albany drug possession lawyer to see if an attorney can help them to escape criminal prosecution and instead get the help they require.