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Arizona leads nation in working to solve opioid crisis

Senator Smith’s bill to expand felony drug treatment plans becomes law today

(Phoenix, State Capitol) --- Hundreds of new laws are going into effect today in Arizona, and one of the most important is SB 1278, sponsored by Senator Steve Smith. The new law brings a statewide program allowing non-violent felons to undergo treatment programs as an alternative to prosecution. Maricopa County has had a Felony Pretrial Intervention Program; SB 1278 now brings it statewide, with $2.75 million in funding.

“We are giving a second chance to opioid offenders; either stay on the path to prison or choose to get clean,” said Senator Smith. “If they want help, we enter them into a rehabilitation program that includes medically-assisted treatment such as Vivitrol, which blocks the drug user from feeling the effects of the opioid and also greatly decreases the possibility of overdose. So not only do we keep them out of prison, but we actually are getting them clean and off their addiction.”

“We then take it a step further because upon successful completion of the program, we remove the felony charge they would have received, allowing them greater opportunity to get a job if they need one. Additionally, we have job placement programs available to help gain meaningful employment, so they’re ready to become productive members of our society again. This program turns tax burdens into taxpayers. Their lives are saved and the state saves millions in corrections and court costs. It's a true win-win for everyone. I am proud that Arizona is leading the way with this innovative program.”

During treatment, prosecution is always a possibility, if the offender does not comply with all requirements. “It’s really up to the individual,” said the Salvation Army’s Jeff Taylor, Chair of the Phoenix Advisory Board. “If that person does well in the program and stays clean, they generally do not go to prison. They are in control.”

“The Felony Pretrial Intervention Program saves taxpayers money, easing prison overcrowding while providing a safer community for all Arizonans,” said Senator Smith. “For these types of offenses, the criminal behavior goes away when the drugs go away.”

SB 1278 is the latest step in the State of Arizona’s drive to address the opioid epidemic. In June, Governor Ducey declared a statewide health emergency. The Department of Health Services says 790 Arizonans died last year from opioid overdoses. In the past four years, opioid deaths have increased 74%.

Yesterday, the White House held a meeting on the nation’s opioid crisis. The Health and Human Services Department briefed the President on its strategy to combat opioids, including prevention and treatment, the availability of overdose reversing medication, and the reasons overdose deaths are soaring.

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