OPIOID ADDICTION: PRISON DIVERSION

Will taking opioid dependent prisoners into the great outdoors be a way to a road to recovery?

Aired on June 17, 2019 and August 22, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

HI, I'M MATT RYAN, NEW YORK NOW MANAGING EDITOR AND 'METROFOCUS' CONTRIBUTOR.

TV STATIONS ACROSS THE STATE FOCUS ON THE GROWING OPIOID EPIDEMIC AND WHAT'S BEING DONE IN THEIR COMMUNITIES TO HELPING THOSE TRYING TO RECOVER FROM THE ADDICTION.

WE TRAVELED UP NORTH TO EXAMINE A PROGRAM THAT HELPS THOSE AFFECTED BY GETTING THEM BACK IN TOUCH WITH MOTHER NATURE.

I WOULD DO ANYTHING AT FIRST, LIKE DRINK, SMOKE POT, ECSTASY, COKE, ANYTHING.

I REALLY FOUND OPIATES.

SHE BATTLED WHAT WAS AN ADDICTION.

IT INCLUDED TWO ARRESTS, ARGUMENTS WITH HER FAMILY AND AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE.

THERE ARE MANY MOMENTS, I KEPT GETTING WORSE AND WORSE AND BAD THINGS JUST KEPT HAPPENING.

I KNEW I HAD TO GET CLEAN.

I JUST DIDN'T KNOW HOW I WAS GOING TO GET CLEAN.

IT TOOK AWHILE, BUT THE REALIZATION CAME THE HARD WAY THIS PAST WINTER.

SITTING IN THE COUNTY JAIL DETOXING, YEAH.

THAT'S WHERE IT KIND OF HIT.

BUT INSTEAD OF JAIL TIME, EXTENDED PROBATION AND MORE FINES, THE 28-YEAR-OLD TOOK A HIKE, LITERALLY.

IT'S PART OF A DIVERSION PROGRAM RUN BY THE GLENS FALLS HOSPITAL RECOVERY AND THE COUNCIL FOR PREVENTION.

IT'S ALSO A COLLABORATION WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT IN BOTH WARREN AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES.

THE GOAL IS TO GET PEOPLE LIKE CARRIE OUT OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND INTO TREATMENT AND REDUCE THE DAYS SPENT BEHIND BARS.

WE KNOW AS A COMMUNITY THAT BOTH WARREN AND WASHINGTON COUNTY JAILS STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH POPULATION.

I WAS AT A PANEL WITH UNDER SHERIFF SEAN LEMMERY.

HE SAID WARREN COUNTY 60% OF THE INMATES HAVE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

WE KNOW MANY PEOPLE WITH OPIOID ADDICTION END UP WITHDRAWING IN JAIL.

IT'S BRUTAL.

IT'S SOMETHING YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO PUT YOUR WORST ENEMY THROUGH.

SO WE WANTED TO COLLABORATE WITH THE COUNCIL AND WITH THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMUNITY TO CREATE A PROGRAM THAT WOULD MAKE IT BETTER FOR THE PATIENTS WE WERE SERVING.

THE IDEA IS TO MEET A YOUNG PERSON WITH AN EARLY CRIMINAL JUSTICE EVENT, PREFERABLY A MISDEMEANOR THAT CAN BE SCOOPED UPPED AND FUNNELED INTO TREATMENT, AND STILL HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PROBATION AND THE COURT OR WHATEVER THAT LOOKS LIKE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL.

AND THEN RATHER THAN SERVING THAT SENTENCE IN JAIL, USE THEIR TIME IN TREATMENT AND HELP DIVERT AWAY FROM THE JAIL PIECE.

SO THAT'S KIND OF WHAT WE'RE AIMING AT, TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT, IN THEIR HOMES, CONCENTRATING ON GETTING JOBS OR EDUCATION, BEING WITH THEIR CHILDREN, WHATEVER THAT LOOKS LIKE TO KEEP THE FAMILY UNIT UNIFIED AND PREVENT THE TIME IN JAIL.

JUAN RODRIGUEZ IS A SOCIAL WORKER AT THE CENTER FOR RECOVERY.

HE EXPLAINS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE COURT REFERS A PATIENT.

THEY REVIEW AND LOOK AT ALL VIABLE CANDIDATES.

THEREAFTER THE COURTS ARE INVOLVED WITH REGARDS TO IS THERE PROBATION INTERIM OR ARE THEY PLACED IN INTERIM PROBATION.

SO BASICALLY WHAT COMES DOWN TO IS THEY MAY BE PLACED ON ONE YEAR INTERIM PROBATION, WHICH IN THAT TIME FRAME OUR ADVENTURE BASE PORTION OF IT IS FOUR MONTHS OF THAT YEAR.

I START WITH THEM FROM THE BEGINNING, WHETHER IT BE PRE-CYCLE.

I START WITH THEM ON ONE ON ONES.

I IDENTIFY GROUPS THAT WILL HELP THEM IN THE RECOVERY AND TREATMENT PROCESS.

THEN WHEN WE HIT THE FOUR-MONTH CYCLE, THAT'S WHEN WE START WITH THE OUTINGS.

SPENCER MORRIS IS THE DIVERSION PROGRAM COORDINATOR AT THE COUNCIL FOR PREVENTION.

THE IDEA WITH THE ADVENTURE BASE PORTION OF THE PROGRAM IS THAT NOT ONLY IS IT A VIABLE MODEL FOR TREATMENT, THIS EXPERIENCIAL LEARNING, GETTING PEOPLE OUTSIDE THEIR COMFORT ZONE TRYING THINGS, IT'S ALSO ABOUT RECONNECTING PEOPLE WITH THEIR PLACE, THEIR COMMUNITY.

SO BEING IN THE SOUTHERN ADIRONDACKS FOR AN ADVENTURE BASE TREATMENT, WE HAVE THIS WONDERFUL PLAYGROUND THAT MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE DON'T NECESSARILY UTILIZE IT.

THE OUTINGS INCLUDE, AMONG OTHER THINGS, HIKING, KAYAKING, CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING, APPLE PICKING, AND ONE OVERNIGHT CAMPING TRIP.

YOU HAVE THIS GREAT BIG BACKYARD AND YOU HAVE A WAY TO RECREATE IN A SOBER WAY THAT COSTS NEXT TO NOTHING.

SO SOMETHING LIKE HIKING, THERE'S A THOUSAND HIKES YOU CAN GO AND DO.

IF YOU HAVE TRANSPORTATION, WHICH IS A BARRIER FOR PEOPLE, BUT IF YOU'VE GOT A MEANS TO GET THERE, YOU CAN GO HIKING.

IT DOESN'T COST YOU A DIME.

SO THAT'S REALLY KIND OF THE CORE OF WHY WE ARE TAKING PEOPLE OUT INTO THE COMMUNITY.

IT'S NOT JUST TO ENGAGE THEM PHYSICALLY OR TO CHALLENGE THEM MENTALLY.

BUT IT'S REALLY ABOUT HELPING PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE OPTIONS AS FAR AS, YOU KNOW, A WAY TO SPEND YOUR TIME.

A WAY TO DEVELOP NEW HOBBIES THAT AREN'T RELATED TO SUBSTANCE USE.

AND THEY'RE RIGHT HERE IN YOUR BACKYARD.

CARRIE'S FATHER WHO OFTEN DRIVES HER TO AND FROM HER MEETINGS HAS SEEN A BIG DIFFERENCE SINCE SHE ENTERED THE PROGRAM THIS SPRING.

LIGHT YEARS.

HER PHYSICAL WELL-BEING, HER MENTAL STATE, SHE'S FOCUSED ON HER JOBS, SHE'S PUTTING MONEY AWAYS WHERE THERE WAS NONE BEFORE, EVEN THOUGH SHE WAS MAKING A LOT.

I JUST SEE SHE'S HEADED THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

I JUST THINKS CARRIE WAS STRUGGLING FOR A TIME, AND SHE FOUND THE WILL AND THE STRENGTH TO ADDRESS IT.

AND THIS PROGRAM REACHED OUT, AND WHAT IT HAS IN THE PROGRAM, IT'S COMMUNICATION, IT'S COLLABORATION.

AND THE THING THAT IS BUILT HERE IS CONNECTIONS, POSITIVE CONNECTIONS THROUGH ACTIVITIES, WHERE WHEN I WAS A PROBATION OFFICER, THE REFERRAL WAS TO ONE AGENCY, ONE PERSON.

AND IF THEY WENT ONCE A WEEK AND TALKED ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY'RE NOT DOING IT AND DRUG TESTED, THAT WAS IT.

BUT IT WAS EYE OPENING FOR ME BECAUSE I REALIZED I'M NOT DEALING WITH CARRIE, I'M DEALING WITH ADDICTION, AND IT WAS HARD TO SEPARATE THAT AT TIMES.

SHE WAS KIND.

WE HAD SOME CLASHES.

BUT THE MORE I GOT EDUCATED ABOUT THE ADDICTION ISSUE, I REALIZE I'M NOT -- I'M BATTLING THAT.

AND SHE FOUND THE INNER STRENGTH.

IN ADDITION TO THE ADVENTURE OUTINGS, CARRIE ATTENDS OUTPATIENT GROUPS EACH MORNING, GOES TO REPORT WORK, AND REPORTS TO COURT EVERY FRIDAY.

LIKE ANYONE BATTLING AN ADDICTION, SHE KNOWS THESE ARE THE EARLY STAGES OF WHAT WILL HOPEFULLY BE A CLEAN AND SOBER FUTURE.

JUST EVERY DAY IS A CONSTANT REMINDER.

YOU SEE WHERE YOU WERE, WHERE I WAS SIX MONTHS AGO, I DON'T WANT TO BE THAT PERSON ANY MORE.

ANY TIME I HAVE DOUBT, I DO NOT WANT TO GO BACK.

THE GRANT THAT SUPPORTS THIS PROGRAM CAME FROM OASIS, THE OFFICE OF ALCOHOLISM AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICES, AND WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUNG ADULTS BETWEEN THE AGES OF 18 AND 35.

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND HOW TO COMBAT ADDICTION, THEIR WEBSITE IS OASIS.NY.GOV.

IN ALBANY FOR 'METROFOCUS,' I'M MATT RYAN.♪

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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