A heroin epidemic is sweeping the country and, of course, Florida.
We saw the photograph of the heroin-addled Ohio parents slumped in the front seat of their car with a baffled toddler in his car seat. In many cases, that is the family portrait of drug addiction in 2016. The collateral damage, as always, is astounding.
In Miami-Dade, drug addicts can get specialized help at the Adult Criminal Drug Court. There, they are diverted into treatment and not sent for prosecution. A similar court is in place for people who are mentally ill.
But with the number of those needing help on the rise, Drug Court staffers will make a preemptive appearance in front of the Miami-Dade Commission this week seeking more money to hire case managers to handle the court’s growing number of addicted clients.
In an opinion piece in the Miami Herald on Tuesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, who is a judge in the court, made a persuasive case for county funding to hire extra employees. She will make it again at a public — and final — budget hearing on Thursday.
Miami-Dade’s Drug Court is funded by a $100 million federal grant disbursed nationally. But the county has to throw in some help.
A county spokesman told the Editorial Board that the process is still under way and that no funding decisions have been made yet.
But Miami-Dade commissioners should listen to the judge’s plea on Thursday and come through. For years, the benefits of this ground-breaking court have rippled through the community in lives saved, damaged families made whole again and money wisely spent.
The judge asks in her article, Who are these people addicted to heroin? Members of our families, our neighbors and co-workers. Many of them began using opiates to manage pain and were overprescribed the drugs by careless medical professionals. When the opiate prescription pill mills were put out of business — and rightly so — they turned to heroin, a cheap, plentiful alternative.
Most of the addicts the judge sees before her are young — between 18 and 30 — with high school degrees. Many are professionals. Some have children and families who are desperate to get them help. In the more severe cases, addiction has rendered them homeless.
With the increase in heroin addiction, the waiting lists for treatment grow longer, which means many of them are in jail awaiting placement.
As with the mentally ill, that’s the wrong place for the majority of them to get help. “They live in communities of addicts who are seeking treatment but are stymied by the lack of resources and the fragmented resources in our community,” the judge wrote.
Drug Court, in partnership with Jackson Health Services, recently received a grant for $1.3 million to set up an outpatient detoxification facility with psychiatrists, caseworkers and the court providing oversight of detoxification, treatment and maintenance. Money is needed to hire those caseworkers.
The Drug Court offers offenders the opportunity to avoid prosecution and enter the recovery process. This can be the second chance that they need. Thousands of graduates from the court, which began in 1989, have put in the work, stayed clean and are productive contributors to community life.
Is the Drug Court a solid use of taxpayer money? You bet.