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By Erin Smith

The Bladen County Opioid Task Force held a meeting on Wednesday morning regarding pursuing a grant application to Eastpointe MCO for the creation of a jail diversion to treatment program. If approved, the grant would be worth $50,000 and it was discussed for the County to consider a partnership with Southeastern Carolina Crossroads.

Charles Ray Peterson said there are three possible ways to use the money, if the grant application is approved: jail diversion to treatment, follow up after Narcan to encourage receiving treatment for addiction, and coalition building.

“”We are here today because, hopefully, we can use this money for jail diversion to treatment through Southeastern Carolina Crossroads,” said Peterson.

According to the information provided for the grant, the jail diversion to treatment program is described as linking individuals with treatment programs rather placing them into jails. The grant instructions state the jail diversion can potentially occur at the time of arrest or prior to an arrest by making a request of law enforcement.

Bladen County Manager Greg Martin said he recently received information regarding the grant and also an inquiry from Cheryl Harris with Eastpointe MCO regarding the grant. He told those gathered the grant application must be submitted by January 10th.

“We want to see in terms of feasibility, legality, etc. if the concept we are exploring will work or is feasible with the court officials,” said Martin.

Martin said the  county is considering partnering with Southeastern Carolina Crossroads. The program is a faith-based treatment program and currently offers treatment for addiction to men. Southeastern Carolina Crossroads Interim Director Kincy Barrow told the group that it currently costs about $1,900 per man to complete the program. Southeastern Carolina Crossroads asks for a $500 entry fee only, but if a person cannot pay the entry fee, they are not turned away.

Richard Allen, with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, asked what would be done for the women who are also in need of treatment.

Peterson said he had received a letter from Albemarle Teen Challenge, who offer treatment for women, and they are requesting a meeting with the Bladen County Opioid Task Force meeting on January 9th.

Martin asked the members of Southeastern Carolina Crossroads if there were any concerns or questions regarding the proposed jail diversion to treatment program.

Barrow said, “My only thoughts on it initially are, first of all, Southeastern Carolina Crossroads is a faith-based substance abuse rehabilitation facility. We are not a detox facility. We are not a locked facility. If somebody wants to leave they can leave, we can’t hold them against their will.”

He said faith-based programs have a high success rate across the country versus secular programs.

“My only concern ever with jail diversion or any judge that will say ‘I will let you go here, instead of jail.’ What is their motivation? If they are not motivated to really change their life, then no treatment facility is going to be 100 percent beneficial for them,” said Barrow.

He said Southeastern Carolina Crossroads has experienced that in the past and some have been very successful and others have only been there to satisfy their court order.

Captain Jeff Singletary with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office pointed out one potential issue that may arise is if someone simply does not want to go to a faith-based program. It was discussed in such an instance the possibility of referring the individual to a different provider.

Elizabeth Woodburn, with the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, who will write the grant, said “You could start the program receiving only the male population and if it seems to be working, then you can add the female.”

She explained that while it is not ideal, it would give the county time to assess the program and its benefits.

Allen said there is a program called Celebrate Recovery which offers a treatment program for inmates. The inmates who want help can go through that program and begin the process of getting counseling through the Celebrate Recovery program. Allen suggested, if the grant is going to be utilized to send someone to counseling, than it would seem more beneficial to send those individuals already in Celebrate Recovery’s jail program  to Southeastern Carolina Crossroads as they are already committed to change.

“If we are using the money for counseling, we need to know they are serious about things,” said Allen.

Judge Douglas Sasser

When asked about the legal process, Bladen County Resident Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser said there are several different ways the court can handle it. He said the District Attorney’s Office can offer such things as a deferred prosecution or treatment can become part of a plea arrangement, for example.

“Being faith-based, it has to be option, it can’t be ‘this where you are going to go,’ but it can be one of the options,” said Judge Sasser.

If they fail to comply with the deferred prosecution or the plea arrangement, then that is a violation and the court can bring the individual back to court, according to Judge Sasser.

Another potential issue is whether the jail diversion takes place during a roadside traffic stop or at the time of arrest. Bladen County Assistant District Attorney Quentin McGee said, “The standard they have written down is one that is almost impossible for us to be talking about with jail diversion on a roadside arrest or when law enforcement is dealing with somebody.”

Bladen County Assistant District Attorney Quentin McGee

He added his thoughts are it would be more beneficial to offer treatment after an arrest where somebody that is on bond can enter treatment or as a condition of their release. McGee said by offering it that way, there is some motivation for the person to complete the program and take the program seriously.

There was also discussion about individuals who are in need of detoxing before they can begin treatment and where they could potentially be referred. Allen said many will go through the detox process while they are being held in the jail awaiting trial.

It was decided to move forward with the grant application.

A second grant opportunity which was also briefly discussed is a grant for a drug court program which would  offer funding up to $400,000 for up to five years.

McGee said, “In my experience with drug court, I was a prosecutor in Brunswick County, when Judge Lewis got that program going over there.”

He said it consists of a wide range of things. McGee said it includes the District Attorney’s office, all of the judges, the local defense bar, the court staff, the providers and the community all working together.

“You have to have buy in from all sides,” said McGee.

Judge Sasser said that with the judges who would be involved in the drug court, they have to be mindful that they are assigned to court in various counties not just one. He added drug court needs consistency. He also noted that sometimes the legislature indicates there is a reluctance to fund drug courts. Judge Sasser said if the county wants to pursue it, there are a number of issues that will need to be worked through in establishing a drug court in Bladen County.