Additional funding heading to court’s drug diversion program
Last week, Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace, D-Cheektowaga, announced she secured $17,500 in the new state spending plan for the program, which assists with addiction treatment and diversion.
The funding, available through the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistant Grant Program, will directly benefit Cheektowaga’s diversion to-treatment plan, according to a press release that accompanied the announcement.
Councilwoman Christine Adamczyk alerted Wallace to similar initiatives in other towns and said the additional funding would be an important step toward bolstering Cheektowaga’s program. Adamczyk, who chairs the board’s court committee, lost a son to a heroin overdose last month.
It will fall to Cheektowaga to determine how to spend the money, giving the town and the Justice Court wide latitude toward stretching the dollars as much as possible. According to Supervisor Diane Benczkowski, the money might be spent on a part-time drug coordinator position, which would help roll out the fortified diversion-to-treatment program.
A wide body of evidence backs drug courts, diversion programs and peer support groups, Wallace said, and she added that more needs to be done to combat the opioid epidemic.
“First and foremost, we need to start redirecting resources toward treatment and away from punishment. … I think we are starting to recognize addiction is a health issue. It’s not a criminal justice issue, and it needs to be treated as such,” Wallace said when reached by phone on Tuesday. “If [people] want to get help, they should have opportunities to do that, and they shouldn’t be turned away because they don’t have the financial resources to get the kind of help that they need.”
More than 300 people in Erie County died from opioid-related causes in 2016.
In addition to the funding included for Cheektowaga, the state budget contains more than $200 million to, as an April 10 press release from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office put it, “support prevention, treatment and recovery programs targeted toward chemical dependency, residential service opportunities, and public awareness and education activities.” In practice, that money will go toward services ranging from peer support groups to additional beds at treatment facilities, and it will also increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for direct care providers, Wallace said.
“It’s one of those questions of ‘How do you combat this,’” Wallace said. “One of the pieces is obviously making sure the resources are there,” adding that preventing addiction in the first place is another piece of the solution.
The latter may prove to be not only a pivotal piece but also a vexing one.