Framingham League of Women Voters Hosts Panel on Opioid Epidemic and the Criminal Justice System


FRAMINGHAM – Framingham League of Women Voters hosted an Informed Framingham panel last night at the Framingham Public Library’s main branch.

The panel focused on the opioid epidemic, and what the courts and government of Massachusetts have done to address it.

Presenting were Roberta Leis, the executive director of the New England Association of Drug Court Professionals (NEADCP) and former president of the League of Women Voters, Judge Robert Zeiman, President of NEADCP, and Alice Casey, a representative of the Office of the Middlesex District Attorney.

Moderating the panel was Jim Pilsbury of the League of Women Voters, Framingham chapter.

Leis began the presentation by giving an overview of what drug courts are, and their history in both the nation and in Massachusetts.

She said they are useful for combating addiction because they focus on treatment rather than jail time, which has helped reduce recidivism in addicts.

Judge Zeiman emphasized shorter sentencing for addicts, especially those that are at a higher risk of overdosing.

“At the beginning, people were familiar with low-risk people,” he said, “And no matter how you deal with low risk versus high-risk, you can have the best drug court in the world, and high-risk people will recidivate at a higher rate.”

He also expressed support for public policies such as Section 35, which prevents someone from being convicted if they are addicted and at a high risk of overdosing.

Casey explained what the District Attorney’s office and the State’s Opioid Task Force have done to address the crisis.

One of the major ways they have combatted this crisis is through the creation of adult drug diversion programs, which dismiss the criminal charge if the defendant complies with a rehabilitation program.

Casey believes programs like this are effective because they can “help the defendant get back on his or her feet while also keeping the community safe.”

After the panelists finished, the audience could voice their concerns by anonymously writing on an index card. Some notable topics included how Massachusetts will address the fact that many people of color are affected by addiction, as well as the overall quality of the treatment facilities.

The League of Women Voters believes that holding information sessions like these are important because they help residents learn about the things that are going on in their community. “We believe that an informed public is more equipped and more informed with facts to make better decisions when it comes to political decisions and voting on issues,” said Stephanie Deeley, the president of the Framingham chapter.

There are 53 adult district drug courts in the state of Massachusetts, including Framingham.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, please call the following numbers

  • Advocates Framingham (800-640-5432)
  • MA Substance Abuse Hotline (800-327-5050).

PHOTOS by SOURCE intern Nick Barry

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