Krauthammer: AHCA Defeat A Philosophical Victory for Obama
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Stocking shelves in a local store, Todd Popovitch felt his skin flush hot with worry. After years of using heroin, sometimes laced with the painkiller fentanyl, he had stayed clean for the summer, landing a job making $10 an hour. But by late September, his work had grown stressful. He and his girlfriend split, forcing him to find a new place to live. He sought help not from family or friends, but from the state’s top law-enforcement agency, which is pioneering a novel program seeking a way out of the country’s drug crisis. “I’m barely holding sh— together,” he wrote in a Sept. 26 text to Ellen Wicklum, a liaison to the Vermont Attorney General’s office. “Don’t use,” she wrote back.
Ms. Wicklum and her colleagues are taking a chance on Mr. Popovitch, a 35-year-old former standout high-school basketball player and drug user for 15 years. In May, he was arrested twice in eight days for alleged heroin possession. If convicted, he could have faced up to two years in prison. Instead, state officials decided to enroll him in a program that steers low-level lawbreakers with drug addictions into treatment and other services, bypassing incarceration and using the threat of prosecution as leverage. Operating entirely outside of a courtroom, prosecutors in participating counties can allow people arrested for drug crimes to move on with no charges if they adhere to a contract. Bearded and heavily tattooed, Mr. Popovitch now faces a daily struggle over whether the program’s ultimate payoff—a clean record and no jail, probation or work crew—is enough to motivate him to stay off heroin and fentanyl. For now, he is winning. “I’ve been beat down and owned by it for so long,” he says. “I’m not going to be owned by it anymore.” This idea is one of many local initiatives that have popped up all over the country to tackle the scourge of opioids, from Albany, N.Y., to Santa Fe, N.M. “This is a big kind of newish idea,” says Marc Fishman, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine faculty member who helped start such a program this year in Montgomery County, Md., adding, “We like the early signals.” In 2015, University of Washington researchers found participants in Seattle’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program were 58% less likely to be re-arrested than individuals in a control group.
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