Drug Court seeing dramatic changes thanks to CNY heroin problems

Most of Syracuse Drug Court's cases are heroin-related, and the presiding judge says they involve older people who've never been in trouble with the law before.

Five years ago, most of the cases in Syracuse Drug Court were cocaine related. Now, Presiding Judge James Cecile says 75 to 80% are heroin-connected.

He says that the type of people he's seeing is also different: professionals, including nurses, lawyers, and graduate students. Many are in their late forties, and this is the first contact they've had with the criminal justice system.

Drug Court is a way to handle drug related cases, without sending offenders to prison.

For a misdemeanor, which would carry a sentence of up to a year in the Jamesville Correctional Facility, people who agree to drug court must attend sessions, up to twice a week, they must stay drug free, and they must get a job. If all the conditions are met, the misdemeanor is wiped from their record. Not everyone succeeds: Judge Cecile says Julie Dix, the Manlius mother found dead last month, failed to show up for the program the day she was found dead. Manlius police say it's a drug overdose case.

Some more serious felonies are also handled through drug court, though in those cases the accused has to plead guilty to the charges. After completion of the program, the accused remains on probation for another year before the record is cleared.

About 260 people are in drug court programs now, all Onondaga County residents, because Judge Cecile says there are so many people arrested in the Syracuse area (its a destination for drug buying) that the non-residents would overwhelm the program.

~We have more on Central New York's heroin problem tomorrow evening, including a look at Narcan, the anti-overdose drug which is being distributed to people we pay to keep us safe, as well as to friends and relatives of users. It was Narcan, administered by Rural Metro, that saved the life of a woman who collapsed from a heroin overdose, in a parking lot at Destiny on Saturday afternoon.

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