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Baltimore program favors drug treatment over jail sentence

In the U.S., there is a lot of stigma attached to drug addiction. "Why can't he just stop using?" or "Why is she making these choices?" are common questions we hear after someone on drugs gets into legal trouble. The truth of the matter, though, is that the answers are not cut and dry. Drug addiction is a very real thing and causes people to behave in ways they never would have imagined. Suddenly, the person you love is someone you hardly recognize. In many cases, the person doesn't even recognize themselves.

The promising news is that law enforcement in certain parts of the country, including here in Baltimore, is starting to realize that addicts need help, not just legal consequences. This is why the city is rolling out a diversion program -- called the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion approach -- for low-level drug offenders. The plan is to get people treatment for their addiction issues, instead of just throwing them in jail. The hope is that helping people now will deter crime in the future.

How will the program work?

This diversion program comes at a time when it is clear the city needs it. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore is one of the largest U.S. markets for heroin. At a time when the city is also seeing a close to 70 percent increase in overdose deaths, it's clear that people need help.

In looking at the first year of this program, police will identify at least 60 people who they believe could benefit from some sort of treatment. Officers are going to select from people who are suspects in certain downtown crimes, such as prostitution. Once selected, each of these people will work with a case manager, who will develop a plan tailored to their needs. These plans could include drug treatment, housing aid and mental health services.

The hope is that the area will see a reduction in crime as people get the help they need. For example, no longer needing money for drugs, someone would no longer feel the need to steal or turn to prostitution to feed their addiction.

What about those not selected for the program?

Unfortunately, at a time when opioid use is sweeping the nation, not everyone who needs help is going to receive it. For those facing drug-related criminal charges, this is where a criminal defense attorney can really step in, to act as an advocate.

At the Law Offices of Charles L. Waechter, we look at the big picture. Are you someone struggling with addiction? Did you commit a crime fueled by that addiction? Many times, we recommend enrolling in some type of drug treatment program prior to going to court. Not only could this look favorable to a judge, it can also really help to turn a person's life around, which is one of the best ways to secure their future.

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