Community

Louisville is launching a pilot program to try to tackle the city’s opioid addiction crisis by treating people who are addicted instead of jailing them.

The program is called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), and it gives trained law enforcement officers the option of sending 50 people facing low-level, opioid-related offenses to treatment at Volunteers of America rather than to jail.

With a $400,000 grant from the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, LEAD will be tested for 18 months in the Portland and Russell neighborhoods.

Here’s how the program will work, per a news release:

  • LMPD officers working in the targeted beats in the Russell and Portland neighborhoods will use discretionary authority at the point of contact to divert eligible candidates into intervention for offenses driven by substance use disorder.
  • The LMPD officer will determine eligibility for the LEAD program based on established offense criteria and criminal history exclusions. Eligible crimes will include felony possession of an opiate and possession of heroin under two grams, as well as low-level property crime stemming from opiate addiction.
  • Instead of taking them to jail, officers will take those volunteering to participate to the Volunteers of America Mid-States triage location on West Broadway to be connected with a case manager.
  • Within 72-hours a potential participant must complete an in-depth assessment before becoming one of the 50 pilot project participants to receive treatment and wrap-around services.
  • Volunteers of America Mid-States will assume responsibility for the case management of the individuals.
  • The Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, housed at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, will conduct the evaluation of the program.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said LEAD will decrease overcrowding in jails and save the city money and resources.

“In many cases, these folks mean no harm. They’re struggling with a disease,” Fischer said. “Throwing them into jails and courts that are already overcrowded and backlogged doesn’t serve their needs or the city’s needs.”

LEAD was first launched in Seattle in 2011, according to a news release. After three years of operation there, 58 percent of its participants were reportedly less likely to be arrested after enrollment, per the release.

Volunteers of America Mid-States President Jennifer Hancock said the program will make Louisville a safe, strong and more compassionate city.

“We can’t look the other way and hope we find solutions for our friends and neighbors struggling with opioid use and addiction,” Hancock said. “LEAD looks the problem in the eye and offers hope, and real answers and a better future.”

Although LEAD is only being offered to the first 50 people who qualify, Hancock said treatment at Volunteers of America is still free to people in need through other programs and initiatives.

University of Louisville researchers will evaluate the program until its pilot phase ends. If that research proves that the program is effective, LEAD Project Director Jamie Allen said the city would use money raised over the pilot phase to offer LEAD to more people.

Officials say the LEAD pilot program is expected to fully launch by Oct. 1.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.