Addiction Policy Forum Announces New Initiatives and Partnerships to Address the Opioid Crisis

(Chicago) — The Addiction Policy Forum, of which TASC is a national partner, has announced several new initiatives to help families in the United States struggling with opioid addiction and other substance use disorders. The programs put in motion key elements of the organization’s multi-year plan announced in October, which offers a comprehensive approach to addressing the growing opioid epidemic.

The Addiction Policy Forum is led by Jessica Hulsey Nickel, who will receive TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Leadership Award at TASC’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 14.

“The Addiction Policy Forum is making important progress in addressing the disease of addiction,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “A multi-faceted approach is needed for this complex challenge we face as a country. We look forward to working with the Forum on evidence-based programs that aim to improve the criminal justice response to substance use disorders.”

As active partners in the Forum since its inception in 2015, TASC and its Center for Health and Justice offer practical experience and expertise in criminal justice diversion and reentry strategies, while also promoting innovative programs that are making a difference in communities across the country.

“We hear all too often that families and community leaders don’t know where to turn for services that can help loved ones who are in crisis – or prevent the crisis from happening in the first place,” said Nickel, president and chief executive officer of the Addiction Policy Forum. “By working closely to families and experts in the field, we’re creating localized resources and evidence-based tools that will make a real difference in addressing substance use disorders. We are grateful to all of our partner organizations for their ongoing commitment to this important issue.”

The Addiction Policy Forum represents a diverse partnership of organizations, policymakers, and stakeholders committed to working together to elevate awareness around addiction, and to improve programs and policy through a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, recovery, and criminal justice reform.

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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.

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.

IACP and TASC Announce National Initiative to Combat the U.S. Opioid Epidemic and Mainstream Pre-Arrest Diversion Programs

(Chicago)  – The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) have come together to promote an initiative to create robust alternative-to-arrest diversion programs for state, county, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States, in line with the White House announcement responding to the national opioid emergency.

The IACP/TASC 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 in need access treatment as rapidly as possible. This collaboration is particularly timely given the announced national opioid epidemic emergency. For example, “Naloxone Plus” models are specially designed for law enforcement and treatment partnerships to prevent future overdose deaths.

“At this critical time for our communities, law enforcement efforts to connect people with drug treatment could not have greater urgency,” said IACP President Donald De Lucca, chief of the Doral, Florida, Police Department. “Law enforcement officers, working side-by-side with treatment providers and community, will together help form the solution.”

To launch this effort, IACP and TASC will work through the Police, Treatment, and Community (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 reduce crime in the United States.

The IACP and TASC initiative will: 1) identify the many variations on the concept of diversion across the United States, pinpointing programs with the most promising and measurable outcomes; 2) launch a significant nationwide pilot implementation approach using the identified promising models; 3) leverage the resources of the IACP Center for Police Research and Policy at the University of Cincinnati to measure and evaluate the results of the pilot implementation to ensure an evidenced-based approach; and 4) launch one of the largest pre-arrest diversion initiatives in the United States, seeking a sea change in policing (and justice) practices.

While diversion to treatment is not a new concept, this initiative adds a critical element that’s been missing: a dynamic and sustainable partnership that brings together TASC’s expertise in evidence-based responses to substance use and mental health disorders, along with IACP’s expansive and knowledgeable law enforcement network.

“We know from four decades of research and experience that formal connections to treatment can improve access and outcomes,” said Pam Rodriguez, president and CEO of TASC. “Across the U.S., prisoner reentry programs, court intervention programs, and prosecutorial diversion programs have proven successful for decades. Their lessons can be applied even earlier in the justice system—ideally before people even enter it.”

“This initiative can yield value across the U.S., including safer communities, healthier families, and officers returning home safely from duty,” said De Lucca.

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About TASC

TASC, Inc. has a 40-year history of bridging justice systems and community-based substance use treatment programs. Offering direct services to more than 20,000 people annually in Illinois, TASC works in partnership with law enforcement, courts, prisons, child welfare programs, and community-based service providers to implement evidence-based services that increase health and reduce recidivism.

About the IACP

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is a professional association for law enforcement worldwide. For more than 120 years, the IACP has been launching internationally acclaimed programs, speaking on behalf of law enforcement, conducting groundbreaking research, and providing exemplary programs and services to members across the globe.

Today, the IACP continues to be recognized as a leader in these areas. By maximizing the collective efforts of the membership, IACP actively supports law enforcement through advocacy, outreach, education, and programs. Through ongoing strategic partnerships across the public safety spectrum, the IACP provides members with resources and support in all aspects of law enforcement policy and operations. These tools help members perform their jobs effectively, efficiently, and safely while also educating the public on the role of law enforcement to help build sustainable community relations.

About PTAC

 The Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTAC Collaborative) was launched in April 2017 with a mission to strategically widen community behavioral health and social service options available through law enforcement diversion. The purpose of the PTAC Collaborative is to provide national vision, leadership, voice, and action to reframe the relationship between law enforcement, treatment, and community. PTAC promotes the development and dissemination of a wide variety of pre-arrest diversion efforts, not limited to any single approach. PTAC seeks to avoid issues of racial disparity in practice as pre-arrest diversion initiatives grow across the country. We welcome the participation of representatives from law enforcement and other criminal justice entities, behavioral health, research, community, advocacy and related organizations in any of the strategic areas.

OP-ED: Revamping of Health Law Could Be Costly to Illinois

As Congress prepares to replace the Affordable Care Act, it is essential that the Medicaid expansion provision of the law be protected.

Any rollback of federal Medicaid coverage would be particularly harmful to Illinois, especially as our state grapples with budget deficits, an opioid epidemic, and an overburdened criminal justice system.

Under the ACA, Illinois was among the majority of states that expanded Medicaid, which provides federally-funded health insurance for low-income people. In a January letter to congressional leaders, the Rauner administration expressed concern about potential changes to Medicaid, pointing out that 3.2 million Illinoisans—almost one-quarter of the state’s population—are enrolled in coverage. 

Reducing Medicaid coverage would deprive Illinois of millions of dollars per year in federal support. As an example, in behavioral health services alone, the state would have to replace an estimated $80 million per year in federal Medicaid resources to pay for community-based substance use and mental health services that would support alternatives to incarceration and reentry initiatives.

Second, such changes would fly in the face of efforts to address the opioid epidemic that is devastating Illinois communities. Nineteen Illinois sheriffs, prosecutors, and police chiefs recently signed a letter to Congress urging action against any policy changes that would make it even harder for low-income individuals to access addiction and/or mental health treatment. Lack of treatment access impairs law enforcement’s ability to prevent overdose deaths and to make our communities safer.  

Finally, rolling back Medicaid coverage would hamstring Illinois’ successful bipartisan progress toward reforming the criminal justice system. Coverage for addiction and mental health services is essential to the state’s strategy for preventing crime, reducing recidivism, and avoiding the $41,000 per person annual average cost of incarceration for those whose non-violent offenses stem from untreated health conditions.

It is well recognized that there are aspects of the Affordable Care Act that must be overhauled. However, as changes are made, and to expound on what the Governor’s administration and criminal justice experts have written, it would be foolhardy and counter-productive if those changes include an attack on Medicaid coverage. Illinois can ill afford such a loss.

Pamela F. Rodriguez, President & CEO of TASC

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.

TASC Releases Medicaid Policy Briefs, Offers Financing Strategies to Improve Community-Based Healthcare Access for Criminal Justice Populations

(Chicago) – Recent Medicaid policy reforms present new opportunities to improve community-based healthcare access for people under justice and corrections supervision. Access to care is critical to reducing recidivism, given high rates of substance use, mental illness, and chronic medical … Continue reading

Fundamentals of Alternatives to Incarceration

(Chicago) – In the United States, the majority of people who come into the criminal justice system have a substance use problem, which is a treatable health condition. As a response to non-violent offenses related to drug use and addiction, there are many alternatives to incarceration that are more effective and less expensive than keeping people behind bars.

“Program models are not enough,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez. “What’s much harder to sustain—but what’s necessary if we want to achieve real impact—are whole systems where justice partners and health services in the community work together by design.

“Too often,” she added, “the justice system is the first place where people have a chance to get drug treatment and other health services. Adequate health services must be available in the community far before people reach the point of incarceration.”

For cash-strained governments, overburdened justice systems, and communities and families suffering the consequences of addiction, alternative sanctions for non-violent, drug-related offenses make sense.

First, incarceration is costly. In Illinois, it costs an average of $38,000 to keep someone in prison for a year. A single day in the Cook County Jail costs an average of $143, and even more in the segment of the jail that detains people with serious mental illness.

To borrow a term from the medical field, incarceration is iatrogenic, meaning that in and of itself it is harmful. Incarceration usually leaves people worse off—in terms of recidivism risk, job and family disruption, financial destabilization, and more—than when they went in. Even three days in jail has deleterious consequences.

Furthermore, without intervene early on, there are costs and consequences of a criminal conviction that last far beyond the period of incarceration or probation. The American Bar Association keeps a record of these consequences in each state.

Like other chronic health conditions, substance use disorders are treatable. It is estimated that 23 million people in the United States once had an alcohol or drug problem and no longer do.

Among individuals with a drug problem who were sent to TASC’s court and probation services, there was a 71 percent reduction in arrests for drug and property crimes over a two-year period after program enrollment.

“We know that addiction is treatable,” said Rodriguez. “We know that incarceration is expensive and iatrogenic. We also know that there are effective alternatives to incarceration. For these reasons and more, it makes sense to divert eligible individuals with substance use problems out of the justice system and into treatment and recovery support services in the community.”

There are numerous evidence-based practices and policies for preventing and stopping cycles of drug use and crime. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Institute of Behavioral Research at Texas Christian University, and TASC’s Center for Health and Justice are among many entities that publish and promote what works.

“What we know from extensive research and experience is that interventions must be matched to individuals’ risks for reoffending and their clinical needs,” said Rodriguez. “Mismatched interventions—such as the wrong level of care or supervision—not only waste resources, but actually can have the opposite of the intended effect.”

Sept. 14-16, 2016: TASC and partners welcomed guests from international agencies for a three-day site visit focused on diversion initiatives, jail interventions, and sentencing alternatives in Cook and Lake counties. Left to right: Antonio Lomba, Organization of American States; Chritharth Palli, India judiciary; Melody M Heaps, MMH & Associates; Pamela F. Rodriguez, TASC; Charlotte Sisson, U.S. State Dept.; Richard Baum, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Sept. 14-16, 2016: TASC and partners welcomed guests from international agencies for a three-day site visit focused on diversion initiatives, jail interventions, and sentencing alternatives in Cook and Lake counties. Left to right: Antonio Lomba, Organization of American States; Chritharth Palli, India judiciary; Melody M. Heaps, MMH & Associates; Pam Rodriguez, TASC; Charlotte Sisson, U.S. State Dept.; Richard Baum, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.