Some cities are using Medicaid funds to provide addiction treatment for repeat low-level drug offenders, the Associated Press (AP) reports. Many are mentally ill or homeless and have never had coverage for addiction treatment before.
This new coverage is the result of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid in some states. Using Medicaid funds could help shift people addicted to drugs out of the criminal justice system, advocates told the AP.
Many repeat drug offenders are “precisely the population Medicaid expansion was designed to cover,” said Gabriel Sayegh, co-founder of the advocacy group the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice. “Down the road, we see a path for case management and many other services to be supported by Medicaid.”
Seattle created a program in 2011 called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which is designed to keep people out of prison by focusing on those who repeatedly get arrested or seek care at emergency rooms.
The program allows police to redirect low-level offenders engaged in drug or prostitution activity to community-based services, instead of jail. “By diverting eligible individuals to services, LEAD is committed to improving public safety and public order, and reducing the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program,” as is stated on the program’s website.
LEAD offers services that can include providing shoes or a bus pass to help participants keep appointments, buying groceries until they can get food stamps, or providing housing on a short-term basis. If participants relapse, they are not kicked out of the program. An evaluation of LEAD concluded up to 60 percent of participants were less likely to be arrested than a control group.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, started a similar program in 2014, and Albany, New York, launched a pilot program this month. Atlanta, Baltimore and Fayetteville, North Carolina are planning to launch programs in 2017.