2018-02-10 / Front Page

New path to treatment for addicts

Drug offenders are used to hiding from the cops, not turning to them for help. That culture has been changing, at least to some extent, in Potter County over the past two years.

Under the title of “Concerned Law Enforcement Against Narcotics (CLEAN),” police have been taking a new approach to battle addiction. Through the CLEAN program, drug offenders who come forward to seek treatment can, under certain conditions, avoid criminal prosecution and obtain the help they need.

Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson initiated the CLEAN program in response to an epidemic in addiction to heroin or prescription drugs.

“I realized we needed to find a way to help these people without just sending them to jail,” Watson told Endeavor News. “We needed to find a way to encourage those who needed help to come forward.”

CLEAN has certain restrictions. It does not apply in cases where the person has been arrested. Those who are the subject of an active police investigation may also be ineligible.

“That is not to say we won’t help someone under investigation or who has been arrested,” said Watson. “If they are willing to receive help and cooperate with our programs, it can be taken into account in their favor when they are prosecuted.”

Potter County CLEAN program has already connected five individuals with drug treatment services. The program has drawn statewide attention, resulting in Watson being called to testify before the Pa. House Judiciary Committee.

An emphasis on prevention is also part of the new war on drugs. Watson and Colleen Wilber, director of drug and alcohol abuse services for Potter County, have held several community education meetings.

Potter County’s CLEAN program was modeled after a similar approach taken by police in Gloucester, Mass. Watson introduced the concept to state and local police, as well as President Judge Steven Minor, and gained their support.

“Judge Minor is a key proponent,” the D.A. said. “He recognizes the potential of our legal system to help people become productive members of society . . . We have an opportunity to connect certain offenders with the help that is so desperately needed and to set them on a path of rehabilitation that works.”

“We have been successful in removing many drug dealers from Potter County communities,” he continued. “But there’s a difference between the high-level drug dealers and the addicts who are selling drugs just to get their own doses. With the CLEAN program, we’re trying to take a more balanced approach.”

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