As a result of the Chicago Police Department’s expansion of the eligibility requirements for diverting drug users into treatment instead of charging them with felonies for drug possession, it is anticipated that a greater number of drug users in Chicago will receive assistance for their addictions rather than end up in jail.
People who are caught with up to two grams of narcotics are now eligible for a reduced sentence, up from one gram under the previous policy that was approved by the police superintendent, David Brown.
In the past, only people who were caught with heroin or cocaine were eligible for participation in the program. In the updated guideline, additional drugs, like as fentanyl, are also included. This substance, which in recent years has been responsible for thousands of overdose deaths in Cook County, is frequently combined with other drugs, like as heroin and cocaine, in order to increase their respective strengths.
“I think it’s going to save lives because we can intercept people earlier and get them to the right evidence-based treatments,” said Matt Richards, who serves as the deputy commissioner of behavioral health for the city of Chicago. “I think it’s going to save lives because it’s going to make it easier for us to treat people,” “We also have the capability of reducing people’s ongoing involvement with the justice system,” the spokesperson said, “which will save a lot of patrol time that would otherwise be spent on processing these charges over and over again.”
According to the findings of an analysis conducted by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association a year ago, drug possession arrests are both expensive for taxpayers and damaging to drug users. People who are arrested with less than a gram of narcotics in Illinois, which is a felony offense, typically have the charges brought against them dropped, but this is frequently not before the arrests have produced long-lasting ramifications for them, such as the loss of their jobs.
According to Roseanna Ander, the executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, the modification in eligibility for the diversion program is anticipated to dramatically increase the number of individuals who are eligible for treatment. In accordance with the previous policy, there were around 550 individuals who were qualified to apply. According to Ander, there would have been room for another 200 applicants under the revised policy.
Ander characterized the current opioid overdose epidemic as a significant threat to public health. “There is no evidence that the country is making progress. This is one method for extending an offer of treatment to individuals. It should come as no surprise that this is not a silver bullet, but rather one of several potential answers to the problem.
The authorities will not automatically enroll everyone who is qualified for the program.
“It’s important to track how many people who are eligible get offered deflection,” Ander said. “It’s important to track how many people who are eligible.”
The most recent iteration of the program underwent a pilot run in 2018 in the 11th police district on the West Side, which is characterized by high rates of heroin sales as well as drug overdoses. Through September of 2021, around 800 individuals were prevented from being arrested thanks to alternative measures.
Late in the prior year, the program was made available throughout the entire city.
Officers have been informed of the policy change at roll call, according to Deputy Chief Antoinette Ursitti, who is in charge of supervising the program. Lieutenants have also been briefed on the matter.
“I think that most officers who are on the street doing this work realize that these types of arrests can be a revolving door, and most officers realize that something else is needed,” Ursitti said. “I think that most officers who are on the street doing this work realize that these types of arrests can be a revolving door.”
People who have convictions for violent crimes, sex offenses, or possession of a firearm within the past ten years are ineligible for participation in the program for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they are the subject of an active arrest warrant.
The University of Chicago’s crime lab claims that the effort being made in Chicago is the largest program of its kind anywhere in the United States. The laboratory that has been conducting an assessment of the program discovered that 69 percent of participants were daily heroin users and that 34 percent had experienced an overdose in the past. Most were Black men.
According to the findings of the laboratory, eighty percent of individuals who were assigned to the diversion program had begun drug treatment, of which fifty-two percent participated in the treatment for at least one month, and thirty-one percent remained in treatment for more than three months.
According to Richards, individuals who took part in the program had a significantly lower risk of being arrested once again in comparison to those who did not take part in the program.
It is possible for a person to participate in the diversion program offered by the police department more than once, according to the officials there, as treatment does not always work the first time around.
Richards stated that the new policy on drug diversion goes hand in hand with a program that enables drug users to call the Illinois Opioid Helpline at 833-234-6343 in order to have a doctor evaluate them over the phone and prescribe medications that can reverse opioid addictions. Richards said that the new policy on drug diversion goes hand in hand with the program.