Joseph Ocasio was fortunate.
The day he was picked up by Buffalo Police for drug possession was the day the city’s new Opiate Court began accepting cases. That was May 1st.
Ocasio says, "I really didn’t know about this. I didn’t know about it at all.”
For five to six month, Ocasio was using. He says depression drove him to drug use. His drug of choice was heroin.
In Opiate Court, he was given the option by Judge Craig Hannah to put his criminal case on hold indefinitely while he immediately entered drug treatment.
“Nobody can force yourself if you don’t want to do it. If you want to do it, you’re going to do it,” says Ocasio.
But Ocasio took the offer. First stop was three-days in detox which Ocasio described as “horrible”. He was assigned an out-patient program with no medications. No methadone. No suboxone.
“It was cold turkey,” he says.
Afterward, a weekday treatment regimen was established. He’d go to group-therapy sessions Monday through Thursday. Friday, he met alone with a therapist. And after every session, he was expected to appear in Opiate Court and check in with Judge Hannah.
Today, there were lots of smiles from the judge.
Although the brief meeting was right in front of the bench with lowered voices, people in court could hear Hannah say, “I’m proud of you” to Ocasio, as the judge encouraged him to stick with the treatment program.
About the program, Ocasio says, "They’re on top of it. They aint slacking’ or nothing like that.”
This weekend Ocasio and his girlfriend are moving, but he’ll have to maintain the 8 p.m. curfew and mandatory check-in phone calls with counselors. He also thinks he has a line on an auto repair job.
Best of all, Thursday Ocasio has cleared an important hurdle in the life of every recovering addict: his first month sober. He is the first person passing through the Opiate Court program who has reached that mark.
"I can stay clean. I been clean this whole time, you know? I feel great about myself now,” says Ocasio.