Family court receiving grant to put treatment for defendants, family members first

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Erie County Family Court system is receiving a multimillion dollar federal grant and the county is using the money to think of new ways to address the opioid epidemic.

“It’s very important because it’s bringing resources to the people who need it most — families,” says Michael Ranney, Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Mental Health

And that’s why the county officials are gathering a family courtroom discussing the $2 million grant which’ll be used to address needs of those struggling with addiction and their family members.

“This’ll be unique because it means recovery for the parents and help for the children,” said Dr. Howard Hitzel from BestSelf Behavioral Health, the organization which is assisting those who come through the family court system.

The grant will launch a program in the court where those who come in addicted to opioids will have the option of going through treatment and receiving resources to help them recover before facing any criminal repercussions.

“It gives us an opportunity to better address this problem here,” said Judge Margaret Szczur who presides over the family court drug court program.

Judge Szczur says when the drug court program launched 16 years ago, the majority of those in the courtroom were struggling with alcohol addiction. Recently, that shifted and now, she reports in the last four months alone, of the 70 families in the system, 95% of them have members addicted to opioids or heroin.

“What you’re reading about and seeing in criminal you’re definitely seeing here affecting families,” said Judge Szczur.

While sitting on the bench, Judge Szczur says she is seeing how the drugs grasp on people throughout years is tearing apart families.

“This helps us break that cycle of generation of generation,” said the judge.

While the county continues receiving millions of dollars from different grants to combat the opioid epidemic, hundreds of people continue dying from it. The Erie County Department of Health reports so far this year, there are 80 confirmed overdose related deaths and 132 deaths suspected to be linked to overdoses. 

“We see a lot of families torn apart because of epidemic,” said John Flynn, the Erie County District Attorney. “We want to see them survive and thrive.”

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