COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The following story was reported by KREM 2 News partner the Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press:
Even years later, Idaho State Police Capt. John Kempf still remembers individuals detained for drug possession who sat in the back of his patrol vehicle and asked for help.
They needed treatment for substance abuse disorders. But Kempf’s hands were tied. He had no choice but to take those people to jail.
“I didn’t have any help I could give them,” he said.
A new pilot program will soon give Idaho State Police in North Idaho another choice when interacting with certain people with substance use disorders — and give people struggling with addiction another chance.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a pre-arrest program that diverts low-level offenders into substance use treatment instead of arrest.
LEAD is a collaboration between law enforcement, public health entities, city and county prosecutors and substance use treatment providers.
The program is geared especially toward individuals who have little or no criminal history, for whom LEAD could be an early intervention.
With deadly fentanyl-laced pills flooding North Idaho and overdoses spiking, Kempf said the time to act is now.
“We’re in,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have an impact on our community.”
More than 100,000 people died due to drug overdoses in the U.S. between May 2020 and April 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, reportedly caused almost two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths during that time.
Closer to home, 33 people died due to overdoses in Kootenai County last year — with 16 deaths tied to fentanyl, twice as many as the year before.
“We have to do something,” Kempf said.
Prosecutors at the municipal and county level said they support the new project.
“We’re ecstatic,” said Wes Somerton, chief criminal deputy city attorney for Coeur d’Alene. “We’re in with both feet.”
Officers who encounter a person committing a diversion-eligible offense can make a referral to LEAD in lieu of an arrest, creating a pathway to treatment for substance abuse disorder.
Eligible offenses include non-violent misdemeanors that may be associated with substance use — such as frequenting, trespassing or possession of paraphernalia — as well as felony possession of any controlled substance.
Drug possession is the only felony that does not disqualify someone from LEAD. Individuals who commit new felony offenses are disqualified from the program.
Officers can also refer “known” individuals who are likely to commit a diversion-eligible offense in the future.
Those committing violent crimes and crimes involving firearms are not eligible for LEAD. Trafficking or possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver are also ineligible offenses.
Those who participate in LEAD must be adults who have no felony convictions within the past 10 years. They must not be on probation or parole. They must not be in need of medical detoxification or psychiatric hospitalization.
Sex offenders and individuals who are subject to a no contact order or civil protection order are not eligible.
Referrals are voluntary. If someone declines a referral or does not complete the intake process, charges are filed as normal.
After a referral is made, LEAD staff assess individuals to determine appropriate treatment and services.
Treatment providers that partner with LEAD accept Medicaid, as well as insurance. For those who have neither, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has acquired funding to cover treatment.
After one year, individuals who successfully complete treatment will see no charges filed.
Success isn’t always a linear path. To that end, individuals who relapse but are otherwise complying with the program will not be automatically disqualified.
“Relapse is part of recovery,” said Brandi Clark, an addiction recovery coach at IDHW. “Fentanyl is a hell of a drug.”
She added that LEAD aims to provide trauma-informed care.
The Region 1 Division of Behavioral Health will work with District 1 Idaho State Police and Panhandle Health District to conduct a six- to 12-month pilot of the LEAD program.
If successful, the program could expand to other ISP districts.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.