Instead of putting addicts in handcuffs, law enforcement in Somerset County are putting them in treatment beds.
The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program launched in the county in early May through the state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.
It helps low-level, non-violent criminal offenders who are addicted to drugs get into treatment. So far, two addicts have been referred by local police to rehab centers.
“It’s not complicated if you have that foundation in place,” said Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, the Somerset County District Attorney. “When someone is at the point and says they need help, you have to get them help. You can’t have a delay.”
The process is simple: addicts or their families can call local or state police or they can show up at the department and say they want to go into treatment.
Small amounts of drugs or paraphernalia found on those individuals at the time will be confiscated, however they will not be charged in most cases. Each individual is evaluated by law enforcement on a case-by-case basis, depending on their criminal record or genuine desire to get clean.
“We’re not going to be putting hardened drug dealers into this program. But, all-in-all, it offers that addicted person a chance to turn their lives around with law enforcement assisting them,” said Chief Randy Cox, from the Somerset Borough Police Department.
The new program is leading addicts who are at the end of the line, out of the criminal justice system and down a different path.
“It may be a reality check for the addict that says, ‘Uh oh. I can either do this now, or I can end up on the other end of law enforcement where my family member won’t be with me and they won’t be handing me off to a treatment facility,” said Lazzari-Strasiser.
Derek Herdman is back at Twin Lakes drug and alcohol treatment center in Somerset County after being in-and-out of prison.
“At some point, it’s defeating,” Herdman said.
His addiction started in his early 20s with pain pills, then led to heroin abuse. Four years ago, he checked himself into rehab, but fell back into the lifestyle.
After violating his probation, a judge ordered him back to Twin lakes. This time, Herdman said he’s out of excuses.
“I want to change and I’m willing to change, so what do I want more?” said Herdman, the 42-year-old Johnstown native.
Run-ins with the law are what finally brought Justyn Patton into treatment. Now, he’s three-years sober and a certified recovery specialist at Twin Lakes.
Patton said the LEAD program could help break someone out of the cycle of crime and addiction.
“It’s either jail time, treatment centers or the graveyard,” said Patton.
Herdman has served time in state prison twice and been in-and-out of county jail more times than he can count. He said it takes more than handcuffs and a jail cell to get clean.
“Locking people up is not going to fix it. So, the help and the education is a great thing,” Herdman said.
You can learn more about the LEAD program or how to get into a treatment center by calling the Somerset Borough Police Department: 814-445-4596 or Pennsylvania State Police Somerset Barracks: 814-445-4104.
You can contact Twin Lakes Treatment Center in Somerset by calling: 814-443-3639.
You can find more resources/information about addiction and recovery on the Somerset County Single Authority for Drug and Alcohol website or call them at: 814-445-1530.