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Drug Program Drops Charges for Staten Island Addicts Who Get Treatment

By Nicholas Rizzi | February 15, 2017 5:31pm
 District Attorney Michael McMahon announced a new program that will drop the cases for some low-level drug offenders after they seek treatment.
District Attorney Michael McMahon announced a new program that will drop the cases for some low-level drug offenders after they seek treatment.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — Addicts arrested for low-level drug crimes on Staten Island could get their charges dropped if they seek treatment.

The borough's District Attorney Michael McMahon announced his Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) program that aims to drive down the rate of opioid overdoses by diverting low-level offenders to treatment before arraignment.

The initiative is the first of its kind in the city.

"This program is about saving lives," McMahon said.

"What we've been doing up until now is not getting people to the treatment soon enough and making sure they are not out on the street or in their homes using this deadly brew of drugs that is out there."

Under the program, people arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance and given a desk appearance ticket be given the opportunity to visit two local recovery centers, McMahon said.

If after 37 days the treatment center reports the suspect has been "meaningfully engaged" in treatment, the DA will drop the case and seal the arrest.

The borough already has programs to offer people arrested for drug offenses treatment, but McMahon said the new program will give intervention earlier.

"The time is usually about six months before you would actually get referred for treatment," said McMahon.

"During that whole period, you're usually out and you could be using and that's what inspired us really to create the HOPE program."

It was developed with the NYPD, the mayor's office, Borough President James Oddo, the state's Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, the Department of Health and the Legal Aid Society.

Staten Island had one of the deadliest years for overdoses in nearly 20 years in 2016. 

"I think this program is a message to the people of Staten Island that we are attacking this epidemic in every way possible," said Oddo. 

Last year, 90 people on Staten Island died from overdoses and 72 were saved by the drug naloxone, which reverses the effect of an OD, according to preliminary numbers tracked by the DA.

Nine people have died from ODs so far this year in the borough and 15 were saved with naloxone. 

The DA's office doesn't take into account every OD in the borough — such as when people check into the hospital themselves — and McMahon expects the number to be nearly 30 percent higher than that reported.

McMahon estimated between 500 to 600 people would be eligible for the HOPE program yearly and thinks it could help drive those numbers down.

Since it started three weeks ago, it's already had some success, he said.  Of the 28 people that qualified, 19 visited a resource center and seven have already had their charges dropped.

Under the program, after people are ticketed by police they'll be met at the precinct by somebody from the DA's office who will give them information, a free naloxone kit and information about recovery centers.

The return date on the desk appearance ticket will be only seven days instead of the normal 30, but if they visit one of the centers before then it'll be adjourned by seven days.

If they get an assessment before then, there case will be adjourned for 30 days. The charges will be dropped if they start treatment within 37 days of the arrest.

The program partners with the Community Health Action of Staten Island and Christopher's Reason to offer treatment.

Anne Marie Perotto, CEO of Christopher's Reason, said she started her center in honor of her son Christopher Perotto, who died from a overdose in 2011.

She complemented the new program and said it will help people like her son get the help they need before it's too late.

"We show them that they're not another statistic that's going to get lost in the system, we're going to help them," Perotto said. 

"I'm helping my son that I couldn't help on earth."