The most recent Pima County Medical Examiner's report shows opioid overdoses are the No. 1 cause of death in the county. Drug addiction is attributed to the majority of property crimes, according to the Tucson Police Department. Last month, TPD implemented a new program to address both issues. The deflection program lets officers choose whether to arrest people for minor felony drug crimes, or refer them for treatment instead.
"This is a public health issue. So, what the deflection program is about is not putting these folks in jail where they don't receive treatment and it only exacerbates their issues," Assistant Chief Kevin Hall said.
Hall is spearheading TPD's efforts to address the opioid crisis. The department works with CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness, Inc. medical professionals to assess each person and determine if it's safe for them to begin medicated assisted treatment for their addiction. CODAC can get patients started on daily doses of drugs like methadone so they can avoid withdrawals while they detox. Treatment can last anywhere from months to years, depending on a person's history of drug use.
"Once upon a time there was a belief that once you started methadone you could never come off it, but that's not really true," said Dan Barden, vice president of CODAC's clinical services. "We're always creating that hope in moving toward detox."
Since July, nearly 50 people have avoided arrest under TPD's deflection program. Officers can only refer adults for deflection. They cannot be on probation or parole for a violent offense, or have been arrested in the past year for a violent offense.