NPR

To Save Opioid Addicts, This Experimental Court Is Ditching The Delays

Underscoring the severity of the U.S. overdose crisis, a first-of-its kind opioid intervention court aims to get drug-addicted criminal defendants into recovery before their criminal case is heard.
In this June 20 photo, City Court Judge Craig Hannah presides at Opiate Crisis Intervention Court in Buffalo, N.Y. The first such program in the country puts users under faster, stricter supervision than ordinary drug courts, all with the goal of keeping them alive. / Carolyn Thompson / Shutterstock.com

There's about 10 feet between Judge Craig Hannah's courtroom bench and the wooden podium where a defendant stands to be arraigned here in Buffalo City Court.

But for 26-year-old Caitlyn Stein, it has been a long, arduous 10 feet.

"This is your first day back! Good to see you!" Judge Hannah says as he greets her.

"Good to see you," Stein says, smiling.

"We've got to do that after picture. We did the before," Judge Hannah reminds her.

It's 10 feet of space where Stein began to walk back 10 years of crippling intravenous heroin addiction and its sordid aftermath: burned bridges with family and friends, and a stream of lies and criminality to support her drug habit.

Today is Stein's first day back before Hannah after a month of inpatient treatment in Buffalo's new opioid intervention court.

Stein shows the judge a folder full of awards and certificates earned during her recovery.

"Oh, you've also been a positive peer mentor. Wow. You really did your thing down there. Congratulations," Hannah says, looking Stein in the eyes. "How many days clean?"

"Twenty-nine today, judge."

"Keep up the good work, that's awesome."

"I will."

"See another Christmas"

Federal, county and city court officials are looking hard at Buffalo, N.Y.'s new opioid crisis intervention court as one potential model solution to the epidemic of heroin and opioid overdoses that continue to devastate

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