The approach that the Watertown City Court uses to address some cases involving opioids has changed. It is one of 10 courts in New York to receive a $150,000 grant for a new opioid court.
Watertown currently has a specific drug court to handle cases involving illicit substances, but the administrative judge who oversees the Watertown City Court, James Murphy, says the problems posed by opioids are unique.
"Frankly, they need more court intervention," Murphy said. "There’s a lot of different drug cases and issues, but opioids are particularly volatile and violent and people die."
Murphy says the new opioid court plans to identify those defendants who are at risk of an opioid overdose. The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office will then work with the court to suspend their prosecution while the defendant receives medical attention. Two grant-funded medical professionals will provide them with clinical and peer support and the opioid court will meet several times a week to ensure the defendant is following the treatment program.
Murphy says it's a more effective approach than what the current court system offers.
"The courts are courts of justice and when you look at these people, they’re more in need of medical attention and help than they are prosecution," He said. "One of the goals always of the system is rehabilitation and I think the belief is these courts are a better way to get these people rehabilitated than a criminal prosecution."
As part of the program, the judges involved in the new opioid court will receive special training on the opioid epidemic and the issues related to it.