TASC VP, Experts Spotlight Prevention, Treatment Funding at Illinois House Heroin Hearing

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca testifies before House Task Force on Heroin Crisis (photo: David Ormsby)

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca testifies before the Illinois House Task Force on Heroin Crisis (photo: David Ormsby)

(Chicago) – A top TASC official, a local prosecutor, and health experts sent a clear message to lawmakers at an Illinois House heroin hearing this week: prevention and treatment funding are a priority.

The new House Task Force on Heroin Crisis held its first hearing in Chicago on Tuesday and took testimony from health and criminal justice experts, including TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca.

House task force members present at the hearing – State Reps. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who chairs the panel, Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale), Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), Esther Golar (D-Chicago), and Chris Welch (D-Hillside) – heard witnesses testify on multiple dimensions of Illinois’ heroin crisis. In addition to treatment and prevention funding, testifiers highlighted the science of addiction, describing it as a “medical disease,” and cited the law enforcement challenge of stopping illegal drug sales happening by way of pre-paid mobile phones that lack owner identification.

DuPage County Coroner Dr. Richard Jorgensen, a former emergency room surgeon, explained to legislators the medical impact of heroin on the brain and stressed how the drug’s purity has intensified. He also issued an alarm about the over-prescription of opiate painkillers.

Of those who become addicted to heroin, he said, “Most people become addicted through prescription drugs, and then turn to heroin because it’s cheaper.”

Additionally, Jorgensen emphasized that heroin use is a medical issue, not a criminal justice issue.

“You can’t criminalize your way out of this epidemic,” said Jorgensen. “I really believe that all the prevention dollars that you put in come back many times over.”

TASC’s Palanca bluntly told the committee that solutions are well known and need to be implemented. “The solutions aren’t rocket science and they need to be brought to scale,” said Palanca. “Those solutions include use of proven medications, evidence-based treatment, and prevention.”

Lang told Palanca that the task force plans on leaning on his organization’s expertise.

“We know because of the history of your fine organization that you have a lot to offer us,” said Lang.

Dr. Joseph Troiani, director of Behavioral Health Programs for the Will County Health Department, pointed to the heavy budget cuts inflicted on Illinois’ drug prevention and treatment programs, noting that prevention funding has been cut 88% and drug treatment more than 40% since 2009.

Troiani also stressed that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act provides an opportunity to expand treatment services, but warned that the issue of capacity – building facilities – needs to be addressed, saying that capital funding for bricks and mortar is critical.

Following testimony by Dr. Seth Eisenberg, medical director for the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Lang asked Eisenberg to “provide to this committee your ideal budget. We know there’s been a cut. What would it take?”

Also testifying at the hearing were Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Narcotics Prosecution Bureau Chief Brian Sexton, and April Marin and Cassandra Wingert, family members of heroin overdose victims.

Marin testified that her 20-year-old son, whom she suspects was trying heroin for the first time, had typed into Google just days before he died from an overdose, “How much heroin can you safely snort?”

Marin has made it her mission to promote intervention, education, and prevention, entreating legislators for their support.

National Survey of Diversion Programs Takes Center Stage at Congressional Briefing

(Washington, DC) – A new survey of criminal justice diversion programs across the U.S. reveals that law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts are increasingly diverting certain people with non-violent charges away from courts and incarceration and into smarter, more science-based, and more effective alternatives in the community. These diversion options are designed to save costs, address individuals’ behavioral health issues, and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.

The report, produced by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (CHJ) and released at a U.S. Congressional staff briefing today, identifies and describes more than 100 criminal justice diversion programs from across the country upon which justice systems increasingly rely.

“The idea with this report is to provide a picture of the landscape of diversion and to promote its effective use at the front end of the justice system,” said CHJ President Pamela Rodriguez. “The survey intends to boost conversations across the country about available alternatives to conviction and incarceration.”

Rodriguez says diversion programs are gaining currency among law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts across the country.

“The survey found that as prison populations have swelled and public budgets have tightened, many jurisdictions are embracing diversion alternatives out of necessity,” said Rodriguez. “The report is a great benefit to law enforcement and justice systems in terms of the scope and breadth of diversion options available to them.”

The survey rests on the understanding that a criminal conviction – for either a misdemeanor or felony – triggers a cascade of collateral consequences that often severely hamper an individual’s ability to become and remain a productive member of the community, according to Rodriguez.

“This survey focuses on diversion programs that address an individual’s behavior without resulting in a criminal conviction,” said Rodriguez. “These programs may occur as early as street-level law enforcement intervention, or as late as court involvement, but the distinguishing characteristic of the programs surveyed is that they allow individuals to avoid a conviction, which otherwise clings to a person long after his or her debt to society has been paid.”

To develop this report, project staff surveyed more than 100 diversion programs with the intention of spotlighting program design, participating stakeholders, affected communities, implementation challenges and successes, and, where available, cost savings and overall effectiveness, aiming also to express the scale of their existence across the country.

In addition to highlighting the proliferation and diversity of diversion programs across the country, the survey analysis also found:

  • While programs vary in their approach to achieve diversion from traditional criminal justice case processing, a common critical component among many is a focus on individuals with substance use and mental health issues.
  • Many diversion programs currently are limited to individuals with first-time or low-level offenses.
  • Resources should be data driven, matching individuals’ risks and clinical needs with appropriate supervision and services in the community.
  • Given the many types of diversion programs in existence across the country, there are no apparent overarching standards for collecting or publishing evaluation data, nor standard definitions and language among such programs.

“We are at a critical juncture in criminal justice policy,” said Rodriguez. “Diversion programs across the country are emerging with a collective voice that says, ‘Locking up and labeling people is rarely the answer to non-violent offenses, especially when substance use and mental health issues play a role. There’s a better way.’”

The Center for Health and Justice at TASC is a national public policy group that offers solutions for criminal justice, child welfare, and behavioral health, focusing on strategies and lessons learned for reducing recidivism, improving health interventions, and achieving public cost savings.

 Twitter @TASC_CHJ   #diversion

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC.  Photos by Warren Hansen.

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.

Congressional Staff Briefing on Diversion Programs, Jan. 13, 2014. Speakers (left to right): Pamela Rodriguez, Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities); Kris Nyrop, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) project in Seattle; Shauna L. Boliker, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; Mark Kammerer, Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney; George A.H. Williams, Center for Health and Justice at TASC. Photos by Warren Hansen.


TASC Honors Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN News Anchor Bob Jordan

(Chicago) – Moving stories of parents in prison, uplifting images of their recovery and family reunification, an energized room of 340 guests, and inspiring words from respected leaders. These were some of the highlights of TASC’s 2013 Leadership Awards Luncheon, which took place December 11 and honored Legal Action Center President Paul Samuels and WGN-TV Anchor Robert H. Jordan, Jr.

Each year, TASC’s Leadership Awards Luncheon celebrates the outstanding leadership of those who consistently demonstrate innovation and courage in addressing some of society’s most pervasive challenges.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez presented this year’s TASC Justice Leadership Award to Samuels, who has dedicated his career to justice and fairness. He leads the New York-based Legal Action Center, whose mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas. Rodriguez praised the exceptional team of individuals and partners that Samuels has brought together as president of the Legal Action Center, noting that, “For more than 30 years, Paul Samuels has established himself and the organization he directs as one of the preeminent leaders in efforts dedicated to justice and fairness, particularly for people with substance use disorders.”

“This is all about teamwork and collaboration,” emphasized Samuels. “We couldn’t do anything that really mattered without all of you, everybody in this room, TASC, and all the other advocates and service providers and people around the country.” Samuels said he was “in awe of the work that TASC does,” referencing the organization’s direct services for nearly 29,000 people each year, and continued, “I am also very familiar with the terrific public policy work that you do in addition to all the direct services work, and in all these intersecting areas of drug policy, mental health, health care financing, diversion, alternatives to incarceration, community reentry, juvenile justice. It’s just amazing the work that all of you have done to build TASC into a powerhouse organization, not just in Illinois. It’s nationally renowned for its leadership, creativity, and cutting edge work. It’s truly an honor to receive an award from you.”

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca presented TASC’s 2013 Public Voice Leadership Award to Jordan, who frequently covers issues related to criminal justice and health, including a special hour-long program last year dedicated to community solutions to youth violence.

“It was Bob’s search to better understand the complex issues of youth, violence, community safety, and their possible connections to addiction and mental illness which brought TASC and Bob Jordan together,” said Palanca. “His powerful curiosity and commitment to uncover, understand, and address the complicated—sometimes messy—social realities at the root of the news story, his leadership in bringing these discussions to a public forum, and his willingness to personally connect people, services and resources together. This is exactly what this award is about.”

In accepting his award, Jordan recounted a recent story of a young person who had gotten in trouble with the law, and whose life had been turned around with TASC’s help. Jordan said, “It shows how we all are connected somehow to this immense problem of people making mistakes, doing [stupid] things that can just ruin their lives, and we all have seen it happen. So we know that there has to be some coordinated effort with judges, with programs like TASC, with agencies that work together, and with our legislature and trying to work on adjusting our laws, and our own selves in adjusting the way we think about how we’re going to deal with this enormous problem.”

Samuels summed up the problem: “In the 90s the war on drugs turned into a war on drug users—or, more accurately, on people of color and poor people who use drugs, or who were just suspected of using drugs. Our nation’s public policies emphasize mass incarceration, mostly of young, African American and Latino men, even though whites use drugs even more, by most studies, than people of color. And our policies also put forward the horrible notion of permanent punishment of people convicted or even arrested for a drug offense. The list of barriers that have been put in place are horrifying, too long to list. They include denying people employment in a broad range of fields because of a criminal history and/or an addiction history, evicting people from public housing, and not even letting them visit their families.”

TASC has a 37-year history of providing program and policy responses to these challenges, with a steady track record of facilitating clients’ success and reducing recidivism. “TASC has an unwavering commitment to our communities and clients, our partner agencies and institutions—and to excellence,” said TASC Board Chair Marcia Lipetz. “We know our programs work because we rely on evidence-based practice.”

Founded in Cook County in 1976, TASC is a statewide, nonprofit agency that serves adults and youth who have substance use or mental health problems and who are involved in courts, jails, prisons, or foster care. TASC’s Center for Health and Justice provides national consultation and public policy solutions in health and justice.

Mark your calendars: TASC’s 2014 luncheon will take place on December 10 at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

National Law Enforcement Leaders Examine Science of Substance Use Disorders and Implications for Practice

(Chicago) – White House Drug Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy were among the high-level policy and law enforcement leaders who met in Chicago recently for a seminal task force meeting to discuss the science of substance use disorders and implications for police and public safety.

The intensive two-day event, hosted by the Center for Health and Justice at TASC and held November 19-20, brought together prominent addiction neuroscientists, policy experts, and law enforcement leaders representing jurisdictions from California to Maryland. Weaving together science, policy, and practical experience, the presentations and discussions focused on the science of addiction and behavioral management in conjunction with police theory, existing police practices and policies, and opportunities for systemic interventions and action.

The Task Force is a component of the Justice Leaders Systems Change Initiative (JLSCI), which combines criminal justice training and systems change to achieve improved public safety, public health, reduced recidivism, and cost savings. The Police Practice Training Initiative and the Task Force are part of a larger criminal justice reform initiative funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

In addition to Kerlikowske and McCarthy, speakers included:

  • Pamela Rodriguez, President and CEO of TASC and its Center for Health and Justice
  • Benjamin Tucker, Deputy Director of State, Local, and Tribal Affairs for ONDCP
  • Timothy Condon, PhD, TASC’s Chief Science Advisor
  • Redonna Chandler, PhD, Chief of the Services Research Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Robert Schwartz, MD, Director of the Friends Research Institute
  • John Firman, Director of the Research Center of the International Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Bruce Kubu, Deputy Director of Research for the Police Executive Research Forum
  • Melody Heaps, President Emeritus of TASC

“This is a groundbreaking event, convening some of the top minds in the country in both addiction science and law enforcement,” said Rodriguez. “For years, we at TASC have experienced tremendous impact in bridging the criminal justice system with community-based drug treatment, most often through partnerships with courts, probation, and reentry. We know the critical importance of intervening earlier in the system—at the point of law enforcement and diversion programs—and we are grateful to ONDCP and every leader in the room for bringing their expertise to this effort.”

Hennepin County (MN) Sheriff Rich Stanek, president of the Major County Sheriffs Association, lauded the value of the meeting’s content and discussions. “I greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about addiction and what we, as professional law enforcement officers, can do collectively to intervene with people who need help and improve safety in our communities,” he said.

Training curricula and conferences will be developed for all levels of law enforcement—patrol officers to CEOs—expanding their knowledge of the science and treatment of addiction to improve police practice.

“There’s much more to come,” added Rodriguez.

The Chicago-based Center for Health and Justice at TASC is a national public policy group focused on criminal justice and health issues.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy (left) speaks with National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Dan Rest.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy (left) speaks with National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Dan Rest.

ONDCP's Benjamin Tucker (left) makes a point as TASC's Pamela Rodriguez listens. Photo by Dan Rest.

ONDCP’s Benjamin Tucker (left) makes a point as TASC’s Pamela Rodriguez listens. Photo by Dan Rest.

NIDA's Redonna Chandler presents data on the neuroscience of drug use. Photo by Dan Rest.

NIDA’s Redonna Chandler presents data on the neuroscience of drug use. Photo by Dan Rest.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

Preeminent Addiction Neuroscientist Named Advisor to TASC Center for Health and Justice

(Chicago)Timothy P. Condon, PhD, a distinguished expert in the neuroscience of addiction, has been named chief science advisor to the Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) at TASC.

With extensive experience in leadership roles for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Condon specializes in the fundamental impact of drugs on human behavior and implications for clinical and criminal justice practice.

CHJ is a nonprofit public policy and consulting group that promotes criminal justice and health reform nationally through practical, evidence-based responses to mental health and substance use conditions. The Center grew out of the direct service experience of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), a statewide organization that since 1976 has provided placement into addiction treatment, case management, and recovery support for hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans, primarily through alternatives to incarceration and reentry programs.

“Dr. Condon’s exceptional experience and knowledge will inform the delivery of our national training and consulting services as well as our internal program evaluation processes,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “We are honored to announce this partnership, especially at a time when justice and health reform efforts across the country are incorporating new understandings of brain science and research-based practices.”

Among his many accomplishments, Condon guided NIDA in building its research, training infrastructure, bringing science-based findings to community treatment programs, and establishing a national communications network for information sharing and research collaboration. He was instrumental in establishing the national NIDA Clinical Trials Network to conduct research in real-life treatment settings with diverse populations. In addition, he established the NIDA/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) Blending Initiative to reduce the substantial lag time between research discoveries and the implementation of these finding into clinical practice.

At ONDCP, his expertise informed the development of the National Drug Control Strategy and the nation’s demand reduction activities, including the integration of primary and behavioral health delivery, the treatment of substance use disorders among criminal justice populations, evidence-based approaches to prescription drug abuse, and the implications of health care reform for policy, practice, and workforce development. Condon was one of the authors of the national Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan released in 2011.

“I have been working with TASC and CHJ for a number of years as deputy director of NIDA and am honored to provide whatever expertise I can to TASC as it creates new opportunities to improve social justice for those in the criminal justice system and to ensure that those suffering from addiction and other behavioral health disorders get the treatment that they need,” Condon said.

“At TASC and our Center for Health and Justice, it is with both pride and humility that we have the opportunity to work with innovative thinkers and influential change agents across the country,” Rodriguez added. “Together we are committed to meaningful strategies, practices, and policies to improve health and justice. It is in this environment that we happily welcome Dr. Condon to our expansive team of dedicated partners and colleagues.”

Timothy P. Condon, PhD, Chief Science Advisor to the Center for Health and Justice at TASC

Timothy P. Condon, PhD, Chief Science Advisor to the Center for Health and Justice at TASC

Twitter: @TASC_CHJ

TASC Snags 5th Gold-Seal-of-Approval from National Standards Setting Group

(Chicago) – A top national certification group has granted its coveted “gold seal of approval” to TASC for the agency’s ability to “adroitly” “weather very difficult economic times” while preserving its “pattern of practice excellence” in the provision of its criminal justice services.

CARF International announced on October 9 that TASC has been accredited for another three years for alcohol, drug and other addiction services provided to those involved in the Illinois courts and corrections system.

“This achievement is an indication of your organization’s dedication and commitment to improving the quality of the lives of the persons served,” wrote Dr. Brian J. Boon, CARF president and CEO. “Services, personnel, and documentation clearly indicate an established pattern of practice excellence. Your organization should take pride in achieving this high level of accreditation.”

An organization receiving a CARF three-year accreditation has put itself through a “rigorous peer review process” and has demonstrated to a team of surveyors during on-site visits that its programs and services are of the “highest quality, measurable, and accountable,” according to CARF.

CARF’s report applauded TASC for maintaining its programs amidst Illinois’ ongoing financial turmoil.

“The organization has had to weather very difficult economic times and has done so adroitly and with much forethought,” the report stated. “As a result, the organization has been able to salvage programs, retain most staff, and continue most services.”

The Arizona-based accrediting organization also highlighted the importance of TASC services in helping justice-involved individuals to secure necessary addiction treatment care and recovery support.

“The organization provides services to a segment of the population that has been traditionally underserved and is committed to providing services that truly make a difference in the persons’ lives,” CARF’s report said.

TASC’s president credited all levels of the TASC operation for winning the organization’s fifth CARF accreditation.

“From our board of directors to our management to our direct care staff, TASC is wedded 365 days a year to our mission, to our values, and to our commitment to provide quality services and measurable results for our clients and their families, and to be accountable to Illinois taxpayers,” said TASC President Pamela Rodriguez. “This renewed accreditation is well-earned, and affirms our intention and success in continually learning and improving.”

TASC, a statewide, nonprofit organization with administrative offices at 1500 N. Halsted Street in Chicago, has been placing people into rehabilitative programs across Illinois since 1976. TASC has more than 310 employees who reach approximately 29,000 adults and youth across the state each year.

CARF is an independent, nonprofit accrediting body whose mission is to promote the quality, value, and optimal outcomes of services through a consultative accreditation process that centers on enhancing the lives of the persons served. Founded in 1966 as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, and now known as CARF, the accrediting body establishes consumer-focused standards to help organizations measure and improve the quality of their programs and services.

Twitter @TASC_CHJ

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