LEADing the Way: Jail Diversion Program Aims to Address Opioid Crisis

Smoky Mountain News

By Jessi Stone

Between 1999 and 2016, more than 12,000 people in North Carolina died from opioid overdoses.

Not only are families losing their loved ones to the opioid crisis, but addiction is also placing a heavy burden on limited local resources. Drug-related crime has led to overcrowded jails, a backlogged court system and a spike in the number of children placed in the foster care system.

Law enforcement budgets are stretched thin, the district attorney needs more prosecutors, Department of Social Services employees struggle to meet the increased demand for services and mental health and rehabilitation facilities have long waiting lists.

Realizing they can’t arrest their way out of the opioid epidemic, the Waynesville Police Department has partnered with other agencies to find new solutions to address these problems. Det. Paige Shell traveled to Seattle two years ago to learn about an innovative program called LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) that has been successfully implemented by law enforcement to address drug crime and recidivism.

“We were able to shadow their LEAD Program and learn all about their program, what worked and didn’t work, challenges, etc.,” Shell said about the experience.

Now the program is being implemented in large urban cities like Baltimore, Albany, New York and Portland, Oregon. Thanks to $250,000 in state funding for two years though Vaya Health, a push from local law enforcement and cooperation from the DA’s office, Waynesville is now included on the short list of cities implementing the program.

Continue reading.