Metro court introduces opt-in program to combat overdoses

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Opioid abuse is still a major problem but the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court is taking a new approach to tackle that.

The state’s first opt-in program launched this week. The goal is to not only prevent opioid overdoses but also to prevent people from reoffending.

“I was blown away by how ignorant I was about the full breadth of this epidemic and how bad it is and how it’s gotten away from us,” Judge Claire McDaniel said. “People are dying in custody, out of custody. People are dying on the street, people are losing their loved ones.”

To prevent more overdose deaths, Judge McDaniel says it’s time for a different approach.

“Instead of criminalizing this by making it harder for them to access services, benefits, treatment and life-saving medication, we need to take this different approach and try to catch up with the problem,” she said.

That’s where the opt-in program comes in.

“We’re trying to partner with the criminal justice system, community providers and stakeholders to get people who are booked into custody. They are low-level nonviolent drug offenders who are at high risk of overdose. We’re trying to identify those individuals and immediately divert them into treatment,” Judge McDaniel said.

If accepted, the court will coordinate the release, transportation and immediate placement of the individual into detox services or treatment.

The court will also require participants to attend weekly case management services throughout the 90-day program and meet monthly for status conferences with Judge McDaniel.

They may also refer participants to inpatient or outpatient detox. They will also have access to medication-assisted treatment.

“We’re really trying to restore some dignity. We’re really trying to approach this as a public health issue as well as a public safety issue and recognizing that behavioral health, public health and public safety. They really intersect in this really unique way. This program is really designed to meet those individuals at that intersection,” said Stacey Boone, the director of the court’s Behavioral Health Division.

The program isn’t mandatory but there are incentives if you complete it.

“There is the legal incentive. After a certain period of time in the program, the case gets dismissed. So then, they won’t have a felony conviction. Then, there’s the treatment aspect. We remove all the red tape and provide the handoff to everything they may need,” Judge McDaniel explained.

The program will target those with felony cases initiated in the Metropolitan Court. They will not consider people with murder charges or sex offense charges.

If the team determines an individual needs additional time in the program beyond the court’s jurisdiction on the charges, the district attorney’s office may amend the charges to a misdemeanor.