| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – With the increased emphasis on the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse heard testimony at a hearing on Nov. 16 and Hampden County Sheriff candidate and Deputy Superintendent of the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department Nick Cocchi were among those invited to speak.
Cocchi’s remarks included advocating a greater number of treatment beds for addicts and alternatives for non-violent drug offenders other than jail.
Cocchi explained to Reminder Publications that he submitted written testimony concerning his suggestions for programming to address the issue and said his time before the committee was more of a conversation about the issue.
He said the positive reception from the legislators was an affirmation of his approach.
Cocchi said while efforts to prevent addiction, as described in proposed legislation by Gov. Charlie Baker is important, “a huge population is already afflicted with his disease.”
Eighty-five percent of the inmates at the Hampden County House of Corrections have a substance abuse issue, Cocchi said, which has helped lead them to criminal behavior.
He said recent criticisms made about the current position taken by the Sheriff’s Department on treating addiction by Governor’s Councilor Michael Albano on his Facebook page are not valid. Albano has been reported as a potential candidate for sheriff.
“It’s a very false statement about any lack of leadership in Hampden County,” Cocchi said.
He said the sheriff and his staff have implemented programs within the jail to address addiction and regularly have meetings specifically to discuss the issue.
The goal for inmates is to “maximize your time while you’re in our custody,” Cocchi said. This means for inmates to participate in treatment and education program to reduce the rate of recidivism.
In his written testimony to the legislative committee, Cocchi recommended, “Provide treatment interventions that would effectively divert people prior to incarceration. The ideal scenario is to provide treatment interventions that effectively divert people prior to incarceration allowing them to maintain their lives, families and hopefully, stay or be employed. Programs can give non-violent drug offenders the opportunity to engage treatment as an alternative to incarceration. These treatment sentences would be deemed served upon completion of the prescribed treatment, motivating participants to engage treatment instead of being jail. A designee of the Sheriff’s Department would sit on the Board of the Diversionary Court in order to help determine an appropriate level of care and follow through.
“Create and fund additional treatment options or beds available to meet the needs and demand in Hampden County and other jurisdictions. These additional treatment beds should be allocated, and geographically balanced, according to need throughout the Commonwealth.
“Require an increase in the length of stay in detoxification units to ensure a program’s success. This increase in length of stay goes hand in hand with data that shows one of the best tools in combating addiction is time. Extending an increase in an addict's length of stay will put these individuals in a more stable mindset to continue a successful program and help them after their stay.
“Establish long-term treatment programs with a medical model featuring strategies such as medication-assisted treatment, experiential therapies, mindfulness practices, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, life skills training and other evidence based therapies. This holistic approach is working for us in Hampden County now. This includes developing a strong aftercare program to continue ensuring the likelihood of lasting success that the Opioid Treatment Program would provide in helping addicts achieve and maintain sobriety.”