Inside The First Court Designed To Keep Opioid Addicts Alive (HBO)


— Today, a White House commission on opioid use, headed by Governor Chris Christie, urged the President to declare a national emergency to combat a rising death toll from drug overdoses— a toll that commissioners said was, quote,
“equal to September 11th every three weeks.” Across the country, cities and towns are figuring out
new ways to confront the epidemic. Those on the front lines in Buffalo, New York
are trying to solve the problem in the courtroom, where about 80 opioid users facing drug charges are enrolled in a treatment program that could
have some of them facing a judge every day. — Buffalo police! Police department. These vacants, um, a lot of these users like to come here and they crash, they shoot up. — A place to put their empties. Someone was here and they’re gonna come back. — These days Buffalo officers
Charlie Miller and Andrew Whiteford spend a lot more time searching abandoned buildings for drugs and overdose victims. — When we first got on, we had one overdose call. That was in 2012. And it was a young girl that had swallowed some pills. That was the only overdose that we saw. 2014, it just… completely blew up. — The officers describe the city’s drug landscape a lot like a game of whack-a-mole, where for every person helped, another drug dealing house is found, another person overdoses. In a single week last year, three people fatally overdosed
while awaiting court appearances. — Very sad. It is very, very sad. We’ve talked to some of these people in cellblock, like, “If you keep doing this, you’re going to die.” And their response usually is, “I know.” — Buffalo’s answer to its opiate crisis is
the country’s first opiate intervention court. — This court is again in session, the Honorable Craig D. Hannah, judge presiding. — Thank you, please be seated. — After a person is arrested, they’re interviewed, given a medical screening
and sent to the courtroom of Judge Craig Hannah. — All right, we’re going to start our
opioid court calendar at this time. — Jessica Seiler… — 22-year-old Jessica Seiler
has had multiple drug arrests and is one of the court’s first participants. — How are you? — I’m good. — Everything’s going well, they say. That you’re coming up to your 30 days. — But here, there is no mention of crimes committed, and Hannah acts more as a life coach than a judge. — Find someone you feel comfortable with
and always have a discussion about it. Because you don’t want to keep it bottled in. — Hannah meets with dozens of people daily. — The fact that you’re here and
you know we’re going to talk to you is gonna help you grow from the experience. — Right. And like last week, I think it kept me motivated to stay clean. — Unlike standard drug courts, participants are put into treatment
within days of their arrest. They get their charges put on-hold
for at least 30 days. And when they complete the program,
they get a certificate. — Congratulations. Why don’t we give him a round of applause? You have successfully completed
our intervention program. Now I would like to give you
this certificate of appreciation. Keep up the good work. — They all still face charges, but the charges may be reduced or even dropped. — A lot of addicts, they’ve burned all their bridges. So they don’t have their family pulling for them. They don’t have their girlfriend, or their boyfriend. Now we’re that constant contact with them, showing there’s actually someone
that loves and cares for them and wants them to do well,
because that’s half of the battle. — What made your light bulb go off? What brought you to your personal philosophy on the balance between
treatment and incarceration? — Well, it’s easy for me, I’m in recovery. My drug of choice years ago was marijuana. And sometimes we used to put cocaine in it. And when I tell some of our participants
that I’m an addict, they look at me like I’m crazy. I was like, “The only difference between me
and you is that I’ve been clean for 20 years.” But… the addiction is still there. — How successful do you feel you’ve been? — Our goal is keeping our participants alive, so we have a 100 percent success rate right now. — No deaths? — No deaths. Our goal is to make sure they’re here the next day, tomorrow, next week, next year. We wanna make sure that they change their life and get the help that they need. — For Jessica Seiler, help came in the form of court-mandated rehab
and nightly curfew calls with court staff. — Hi Meagan, it’s Jessica. — She says she never would have
sought treatment on her own. — I remember, like, waking up in the morning and being like… literally, like my thought process was, the only way I’m going to get clean is if I go to jail. Like, because I just know myself. — So you were almost hoping
that you’d get arrested. — I mean, nobody really hopes to get arrested. But like, I just knew that nothing was ever
going to change unless I did get arrested. — Jessica started using heroin at 17. She thinks more than 40 of her friends
have died because of the drug, and it’s cost her custody of her daughter. — I used to shoot up in front of my daughter
and take her on drug deals with me. And at this point, we were both living here at
my grandparents house, and… I disappeared for a couple weeks,
and I just came back one day. And they were just like,
“Oh, your daughter doesn’t live here anymore.” I was like, “What the fuck do you mean
she doesn’t live here?” Like, what? Like, I just came home one day
and she just wasn’t here anymore. All of my guilt and shame are, like… from, like… sorry. Like, all the guilt and shame I have is, like, from the things I did
as an addict to that little girl, because she never asked for any of this. — Why is there a different kind of urgency with the opioid crisis and
its related criminal justice proceedings than there has been in previous drug courts
and with different drug-related addiction issues? — I think we learned a lot from the ‘70s and ‘80s, when they just locked everyone up instead
of trying to get them to treatment, because if you lock people up, they still have their drug problem
when they get out. — The opiate court is funded in part by a Department of Justice grant
approved during the Obama administration. But the program launched under President Trump, who campaigned on old fashioned law and order, and whose Attorney General has profoundly
conservative views on drug treatment. — We need to say, as Nancy Reagan said,
“Just say no!” Don’t do it! — You know you have colleagues
who think that what you’re doing is crazy. Do you worry then that it might mean
that the model that you’ve started isn’t able to spread elsewhere? — People don’t look for alternatives
to incarceration until it hits home. And this is something that’s
hitting a wide section of society. — The success of Hannah’s court
will be judged by how its graduates do. Since I met her, Jessica Seiler
has completed the opiate court program and will face her criminal drug charges in early August. — There is the drug world
and then there’s the real world. And I dunno, sometimes it gets to me because I’m, like, so good at
living in the drug world… that I don’t know how
to live in the real world. — Are you confident you’ll be able to keep up? — Somebody told me once, like, never say that you’ve got this, because as soon as you think you got this, that’s the exact moment that you don’t got this. You know? So, like, am I confident? I think so. I hope so.

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