A pilot program in Albany is using money allocated to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to guide struggling addicts toward treatment and other vital community-based services. The Affordable Care Act recently expanded Medicaid in most states states, including New York. Officials in Albany are now sending up a test-balloon to see if they could use the money to keep low-level drug offenders out of jail. This measure includes repeat offenders, as well as those who are homeless and suffering from mental illness.
The idea is based off of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, a Seattle-led pre-booking diversion pilot program developed to address low-level drug and prostitution crimes. Seattle launched the initiative in 2011, after which many more cities began exploring ways to enact their own versions. Santa Fe started a program in 2014 and Albany began its own version this past month. Other cities, including Baltimore, Atlanta, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, are expected to roll out programs later this year.
While the New York-based program is currently confined to Albany, advocates are hoping to expand it to other cities and use it as an alternative to the incarceration-first culture that has impacted residents of New York and the rest of the United States. They are also hoping that it can be a resource for homeless or low-income addicts whose financial situation have prevented them from finding quality care for their substance abuse issue or mental illness.
Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox said this measure “Makes all the sense in the world” and that it shows the community that officials are willing to try different things. The reform efforts come at a time in which tensions are particularly high in many communities between the police and civilians. It also coincides with the heroin and prescription opioid addiction that has consumed the Long Island area. While there have been no plans announced to expand the program into the region, there is increasing support for its continued growth. It will likely be expanded to populations with large populations of economically disadvantaged residents.
The measure is markedly different from drug courts, which threaten to expel participants in the event of relapse. Rather than going to jail, offenders meet with specially appointed employees and are given the option of enrolling in social service programs that can provide for their basic human needs and greatly improve their quality of life. The efficacy of the program in Albany is yet to be determined. It is, however, a clear indicator of a more progressive attitude toward addiction.