Law Enforcement Programs

In recent years, law enforcement authorities across North Carolina and around the country have developed programs that direct low-level drug offenders into drug treatment and other services.

Some of these programs—often called “angel programs”—allow persons with addiction to take the initiative in seeking help from law enforcement. This approach was pioneered by the Gloucester, Massachusetts police department and is supported by the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). Other programs give law enforcement authorities a more active role, encouraging police to direct at-risk individuals into treatment instead of arresting or prosecuting them. This approach was pioneered by the Seattle, Washington Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

A great source of information on pre-arrest diversion programs is the Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTACC).

In North Carolina, pre-arrest diversion programs have been established—or are actively being created and launched—in Brunswick County, Orange County, Fayetteville, Hickory, Jacksonville, Nashville, Norwood, Oakboro, Roxboro, Statesville, Waynesville and Wilmington. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition offers support and services to many of these programs.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities has developed an Opioid Solutions Toolbox that includes a series of videos on pre-arrest diversion.

Drug Courts

Like law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and judges can also intervene to direct offenders with substance use disorders into treatment and related services.

Drug courts that combine treatment with incentives and sanctions, mandatory drug testing, random drug testing and aftercare, are proven to improve public health and public safety. They require collaboration among the judiciary, prosecutors, community corrections agencies, drug treatment providers and other community support groups. These special courts have been operating in the United States for more than 20 years, and their effectiveness is well documented.

Drug courts go by many names, including treatment courts, recovery courts, specialty courts or problem-solving courts. Learn more about the drug courts in North Carolina here, or more about the drug court model from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

In addition to drug courts, North Carolina law sets out a conditional discharge option for certain drug offenses. The defendant is convicted but then placed on probation without the court actually entering judgment. Probation requirements may include a substance abuse assessment, drug treatment and drug screenings. If the defendant succeeds on probation, the court completes a “discharge and dismissal” and the defendant is left without a conviction. If the defendant fails on probation, the court enters judgment and sentences the defendant. Learn more at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government blog.

Jails, Prisons, and Reentry Programs

When those living with a substance use disorder are jailed or imprisoned without drug treatment, they often return to society with the same disorder they entered the criminal justice system with. Once released, many former inmates lack employment, housing, health insurance and crucial support systems. As a result, numerous people who spend time in incarceration or jail with untreated substance use disorder often re-offend—resulting in multiple incarcerations.

This “revolving door”—where persons with untreated substance use disorders cycle in and out of the criminal justice system—is damaging and costly to the suffering individuals and their families, healthcare providers, law enforcement, our criminal justice system and society as a whole.

Additionally, former inmates with substance use disorders face a substantial risk of suffering an overdose upon reentry into society. A recent North Carolina study found, in the first two weeks after being released from prison, former inmates were forty times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than those in the general population.

Learn more through the articles below:

To stop the revolving door and stem the tide of post-incarceration opioid overdose deaths, jails and prisons in North Carolina and across the country have responded with innovative mental health, drug treatment and reentry programs. These programs help prisoners find the services and support they need, both while they are incarcerated and upon reentry into society.

In 2017, Governor Roy Cooper created the State Reentry Council Collaborative (SRCC)  to develop comprehensive solutions to support successful reentry. The SRCC is made up of representatives from across state and local government and community stakeholders  One of the SRCC’s focus areas is addressing the mental and physical health needs of individuals reintegrating into society, including those suffering from substance use disorders.

Learn about alcoholism and chemical dependency programs offered by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Learn about North Carolina’s Statewide Reentry Council Collaborative and Reentry Action Plan.

Learn more about addiction treatment in jails and prisons: