LEAD and the Life of an Addict

It's been just over a year since Bridgette Kurtzke, a 28-year-old from Long Island, New York, died of a heroin overdose. Kurtzke's story is far from uncommon. In the U.S., nearly 44,000 people die each year from drug overdoses. That's an average of about 120 deaths each day. What was uncommon about Kurtzke's death is that the years leading up to it were chronicled by Newsday, who wrote that she "fell through one of the many gaps in a system that has too few beds for addicts and too little awareness of how to access help."

Kurtzke wasn't alone. Early in my career as a police officer in the '90s, we tried community-oriented policing, where police officers engaged with suspects in low-level crimes, and rather than throwing them in the justice system, we'd try to work with them. Unfortunately, community partnerships weren't in place at the time to make that system sustainable.

Not even ten years later, law enforcement agencies reverted to the old mentality of sending addicts to jail, without trying to help them. They often go straight into the drug court system. By not keeping tabs on addicts as they seek help, they can fall through the cracks of the system, often leading to tragedy, such as in Kurtzke's case.

This is where LEAD has an opportunity to change the game. LEAD stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion: it's a pre-booking diversion program reserved for low-level, non-violent individuals as part of a nationwide "harm reduction" movement. LEAD exists as an alternative to drug courts; instead of forcing offenders to meet strict guidelines that come with abstinence-based programs, the program works with offenders where they are today to get them where they need to be tomorrow. For example, LEAD doesn't force drug addicts to suddenly quit their habits; the program helps them stop committing crimes to fuel addictions. Obviously, the ultimate goal is recovery, but the stakes aren't all-or-nothing, like they tend to be in drug courts.

Tribridge public sector technology solutions support LEAD Program initiatives. Tribridge provides a solution to disparate systems and programs across agencies. For example, law enforcement, case management, healthcare and service providers all have different records management systems, but Tribridge enables these systems to communicate with each other, allowing separate agencies to track clients in the LEAD program on a synchronized level. The easiest comparison is a shared document, but much more sophisticated and secure. Each agency involved in a client or offender's treatment can keep track of relevant information separately, but that information can be viewed by all of the other involved agencies as soon as it's entered. That means that everyone involved in an offender's case, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to case workers, will be able to keep tabs on every aspect of an offender's participation in the LEAD program in real time. When everyone's on the same page, offenders get the help they need without going back to jail, and without tragically falling through the cracks in the system.

With the LEAD Program and Tribridge technology, the hope is that far fewer people will end up like Bridgette Kurtzke, and that offenders struggling with addiction will be encouraged and empowered to recover. Community partners will be able to work together to create better outcomes for addicts, improving, and even saving, lives.

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