A new Westchester County program to get drug users treatment and keep them out of the criminal justice system that has already helped dozens of Port Chester addicts will be expanding, county officials said.
During a year-long investigation into fatal heroin overdoses in Port Chester, targets for the program were identified through wiretaps and video surveillance showing they had purchased drugs. While half a dozen drug dealers were arrested, the buyers were offered opioid treatment instead of prosecution.
The program was announced by Westchester County Executive George Latimer, District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, Port Chester police Chief Richard Conway and Michael Orth, the commissioner of the county Department of Community Mental Health, at a news conference Monday.
Once opioid buyers are identified, they are offered treatment programs through the mental health department. More than 30 buyers identified during the Port Chester undercover probe have been connected with support services — both inpatient and outpatient — ranging from assessment to detox.
The program will expand now to Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, where recent drug sweeps have identified numerous addicts in those communities, who will be given similar opportunities.
Scarpino called it “a new day, a new way” for how prosecutors and investigators approach the opioid crisis.
He said that once the buyers had been caught on law enforcement surveillance they had to be told. They could be arrested, he said, or “we could just notify them and walk away.
“But what we decided to do, and we thought it would be a good idea, we didn’t know if it was going to be successful, was that we would try to get them some help,” Scarpino said.
Conway said that battling the opioid crisis takes multiple approaches, suggesting that targeting just the suppliers has been ineffective.
He said the cooperation of district attorney investigators, local police and behavioral health professionals has “formed a lifeline connection to those in crisis with the help they so desperately needed.”
“We can’t enforce our way through it and this concept of working on the demand side is I think a step forward and certainly ethically the right thing to do,” he said.