Portland to launch new program that allows drug offenders option - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland to launch new program that allows drug offenders option for treatment

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Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill (KPTV) Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill (KPTV)

Multnomah County's top cop is pushing a kinder, gentler approach to Portland's drug problem.

District Attorney Rod Underhill is preparing to launch the city's new LEAD program, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.

The program is modeled after a program with the same name that was implemented in Seattle in 2011, and has yielded positive results.

Under the new policy, police officers making a drug-related arrest would be able to give low-level offenders the option of being taken to treatment instead of jail.

"It's a diversion premise that's much more upstream," said Underhill.

Meredith Meacham, a recovering addict and peer mentor with DePaul Treatment services, said the option of treatment before incarceration could make a big difference in the lives of those struggling with addiction.

"Getting the opportunity to change and to actually do something productive as a consequence of using instead of just having it be criminalized and doing time I think is an amazing option," said Meacham.

Meacham said she was addicted to methamphetamine for several years, and was in and out of jail several times without an option for addiction treatment. She finally entered a treatment program while serving time at the Coffee Creek Correction Facility, and has been clean and sober for six years.

"I thought I was going to die out there. I thought I deserved to die out there," said Meacham. "And what happened is I got clean and I'm working on my master's degree now."

A study of Seattle's LEAD program conducted by researchers at the University of Washington followed roughly 200 people who participated in the program and compared them with 100 other people who were arrested and prosecuted as usual. 

The study found LEAD participants were up to 60 percent less likely to be re-arrested.

Underhill said he has secured a million dollars in funding from Multnomah County Commissioners, and hopes to have the program up and running by the first of the year.

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