We all know how devastating the opioid epidemic has been here and across the country. In Niagara Falls, an opioid court has now opened to hear cases countywide.
"The most important component or aspect of the court is time any delay is our enemy," said Niagara Falls City Judge James Faso, Jr., who presides over the city's opioid court.
It began hearing cases just out of the Falls last year, and so far 15 people are in the program. As of now, the court will hear cases involving drug addiction countywide.
"The goals of the program are to get the participants to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthy," Faso said.
Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek says last year there were 430 reported drug overdoses and 44 deaths.
"44 people with fathers, mothers, siblings and friends who felt that loss and felt that pain," she said.
The opioid court is for drug addicts only -- defendants they are charged and they are arraigned in Niagara Falls city court, shortly after arraignment a series of steps are taken to try to get people the help they need, which includes a clinical screening by a substance abuse specialist and a long-term recovery plan is set up.
"By the following morning, we have then either in one or two places an inpatient facility going though some detoxification or some form of medically assisted drug treatment program on an outpatient basis," said Jeff Smith, the project coordinator at the Buffalo Opioid Intervention Court. He's also involved in the Niagara Falls opioid court.
In the meantime, the criminal case against them is put on hold. The treatment program lasts for 90 days.
"Upon it's completion the case then gets referred back to the criminal court for prosecution," Faso said.
"This court will still hold defendants accountable for their actions but first and foremost it is to save lives," Wojtaszek said.