National Public Health Emergency Declared in Face of Opioid Crisis; TASC and Partners Collaborating to Offer Solutions and Strategies

(Chicago) – Drug overdoses killed more than 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an average of 175 people per day.

On October 26, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, “directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis.”

In his announcement, the President indicated that a new policy would overcome the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion that disallows Medicaid payment for certain services at substance use disorder treatment facilities that have more than 16 beds. He also discussed measures to confront illegal drug trafficking, improve safe prescribing practices, and develop non-addictive painkillers.

No requests for federal funding were attached to the announcement.

“What’s important for people to know is that, with funding, there are solutions that can be brought to bear on this crisis,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “From Chicago to Rockford to the Metro-East region of Illinois, and from Maryland to Ohio, we have been working closely with communities severely affected by this crisis. We are finding and delivering solutions together.”

Nationally, the Addiction Policy Forum, of which TASC is a partner, shares innovative approaches happening in communities across the country, from home-based treatment to family recovery initiatives. Earlier this week, APF shared eight priorities to address addiction in the United States, from helping families in crisis to expanding treatment access to reframing criminal justice.

Collaborative Solutions and Strategies for Justice Systems

Opioid use disorders are highly prevalent among criminal justice populations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Furthermore, a Washington State study showed that the risk of dying within the first two weeks of release from prison are 12 times higher than for other state residents, with overdose being the leading cause of death.

Working with expert researchers, justice leaders, and practitioners across the country, the Center for Health and Justice at TASC has developed collaborative opioid response strategies and solutions for all points in the justice system, beginning with law enforcement and through to parole.

“As first responders, law enforcement officers often are on the front lines of the epidemic. Not only can they carry naloxone to revive individuals who have overdosed, but can save a lives again by placing people in treatment instead of arresting them,” said Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC.

“When police, treatment, and communities work together, there’s an array of public health responses that can happen pre-arrest, before people enter the justice system.”

To this end, TASC is a founding partner in the Policy, Treatment, and Community (PTAC) Collaborative, whose mission is to increase health and public safety by widening community and behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. Sharing research and information on robust partnerships to confront the opioid crisis in local jurisdictions, the PTAC Collaborative will hold its inaugural conference on pre-arrest diversion in March 2018.

TASC’s Center for Health and Justice also has worked with partners to develop collaborative responses for jails, courts, and reentry phases of the justice system, as well as tools and strategies that span the continuum, including rapid assessment and treatment capacity expansion.

Additionally, the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence released a fact sheet earlier this week on the use of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in the justice system. TASC participated in the expert panel cited in the report.

“Families and communities are hurting,” said Rodriguez. “We’re joining forces with policymakers, justice leaders, and practitioners to help people and communities get the services they need. We need to keep people alive.”

To learn more, visit the Center for Health and Justice (CHJ) at TASC, or contact Jac Charlier, national director for justice initiatives at CHJ.

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Op-Ed by TASC President: Cook County State’s Attorney Report “Bold and Refreshing”

The new data report issued by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is a bold and refreshing step toward transparency in government and criminal justice reform. For the lead prosecutor of a major county to offer such a wealth of useful and important information is practically unheard of anywhere in the country.

The report offers a snapshot of who is coming into the justice system and how cases are processed. By presenting data on more than 30,000 cases—including breakdowns of offense charges, case dispositions, sentences, and demographic information—the report offers a trove of vital information that will help inform and shape future policy and program directions. 

We must also mention the leading role the State’s Attorney’s Office takes in diverting people out of the system who need not be in it.

Working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) helped divert more than 3,000 men and women out of the front end of the justice system last year through the Cook County Deferred Prosecution Program and First-Time Offender Drug Diversion Program. In each of these programs, individuals volunteer to participate in intensive services or classes, and may be eligible to have their charges dropped or expunged once they successfully complete the program requirements. 

These and similar alternative prosecution programs help relieve pressure on the justice system, save taxpayer dollars, and often give participants the opportunity to address their behavior and avoid further entanglement with the justice system.

We applaud Kim Foxx for her leadership, and are proud to work with her office to advance and accelerate efforts towards a better system of justice.

TASC President Pam Rodriguez

Pamela F. Rodriguez is president and CEO of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC, Inc.) and a member of Governor Rauner’s Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Leading the Movement Toward Diversion as a First Response: Building Connections to Treatment at the Front End of the Justice System

Below is an excerpt from TASC’s semi-annual News & Views. The current issue includes articles on pre-arrest, prosecutorial, and jail release interventions for people who have substance use and mental health conditions.

(Chicago) — A recent criminal justice trend is gaining traction. It has potential not only to help curb the devastation that the opioid epidemic is causing in communities across the nation, but also to bring law enforcement, treatment providers, and communities together to solve common challenges that substance use and mental health disorders pose.

It’s known as pre-arrest diversion. Other terms include front-end diversion, deflection, and pre-booking diversion. Regardless of terminology, the goal is the same: to divert eligible individuals with substance use and mental health disorders to treatment before logging an arrest.

“We know from decades of research and experience that formal connections to treatment can improve access and outcomes,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Lessons learned from prosecutorial diversion programs, court intervention programs, and reentry programs can, and should, be applied even earlier in the justice system.”

The first point of entry into the justice system—and thus the earliest opportunity for justice diversion—is law enforcement.

“For most people who are manifesting substance use and mental health disorders, there are better alternatives than arrest,” said Rodriguez. “Through our work with partners across the country, we hope to make it easier for law enforcement officers to connect people to treatment.”

Building Police-Treatment-Community Partnerships

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2015, nearly half a million people died from a drug overdose, and since then, mortality rates have climbed precipitously, with a record 64,000 people having lost their lives to overdose in 2016.

Often at the front line of these tragedies, local law enforcement agencies are seeking new ways to better serve and protect communities confronting the consequences of substance use disorders, especially as police frequently interact with individuals affected by addiction and/or overdose. Pre-booking or pre-arrest diversion strategies can help reduce drug use, promote public safety, and save lives.

In March, the Center for Health and Justice at TASC partnered with the Civil Citation Network to convene the first-ever national summit focused on pre-arrest diversion. Criminal justice, behavioral health, and public policy experts from across the country gathered at the headquarters of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in Alexandria, Virginia, for two days of information sharing and planning.

From this meeting emerged the Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (“PTAC Collaborative”), the first national effort to build a multi-disciplinary approach that ensures law enforcement, treatment professionals, and community members collaborate as equal partners to widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion.

Working through the PTAC Collaborative, IACP and TASC have come together to promote alternative-to-arrest diversion programs for state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. This collaboration seeks to greatly improve the means, ease, and speed with which law enforcement can partner with substance use and mental health treatment providers so that police can help people access treatment.

Read more about TASC’s partnership with IACP and the PTAC Collaborative to advance pre-arrest diversion.

Save the date for the inaugural PTAC Collaborative conference March 4-7, 2018 in Ponte Vedra, Florida.

Browse additional stories in the current issue of TASC News & Views, including frameworks for pre-arrest diversion (p. 5), prosecutorial diversion in Illinois (p. 6), and the new Supportive Release Center in Cook County, Illinois, where TASC and partners provide intervention and service linkages at the critical point of release from jail (p. 7).

Also in this issue:

2017 TASC Leadership Award Honorees Announced

(Chicago) – Howard A. Peters III and Jessica Hulsey Nickel, longtime advocates in the fields of criminal justice and healthcare policy, will accept TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards at the agency’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 14.

Howard A. Peters III, 2017 TASC Justice Leadership Award Honoree

TASC will present its Justice Leadership Award to Peters, who currently serves as vice chair of the Medicaid Advisory Committee under the Illinois Health and Human Services Transformation initiative. In his 40 years of public service, Peters has led the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Human Services, and was appointed in 2015 by Governor Rauner to the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

“For many the years, in settings where policy decisions are being made about justice reforms and healthcare access, Howard Peters has been an experienced and respected voice in the room,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “He is a strong advocate for under-served communities and populations. Through his broad experience in both corrections and healthcare, he helps build consensus to improve policies and access to care.”

Nickel, who founded and leads the national Addiction Policy Forum, will receive TASC’s Public Voice Leadership Award. Nickel has been instrumental in shaping and advancing federal legislation to improve justice and support recovery, including the landmark Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which fights the opioid epidemic and supports front-end criminal justice diversion among its key provisions, and the groundbreaking Second Chance Act, which has seeded more than 700 local reentry initiatives across the country.

Jessica Nickel, 2017 TASC Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree

“Jessica Nickel is helping communities across the country make strides against addiction and its consequences,” said Rodriguez. “Through federal legislative initiatives and through the Addiction Policy Forum, she’s bringing forth practical solutions to help families and communities that want to know what works and what they can do.”

Rodriguez added, “We are thrilled to present our 2017 leadership awards to both Howard and Jessica.They each are thoughtful, committed leaders who inspire others.”

The 2017 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon will take place at the Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago on Thursday, December 14 from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. Registration is requested by November 28. For sponsorship opportunities and additional information, please click here.