Opioid Court judge opens up about personal battle with addiction

Judge Craig Hannah

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- In Judge Craig Hannah’s Opioid Court, it’s hard not to notice the connection he has with defendants.

Sometimes the conversations are laid back, other times he’s giving tough love; but there’s a bond, an understanding that’s hard to miss.

Part of that is because defendants have to report daily for at least 30 days; unlike traditional drug court, Opioid Court participants focus on their sobriety before they face their charges.

Hannah, who oversees the program, shares a struggle with the people he helps.

“Sometimes the best coach is a former player,” he said.

“You can tell the insight to things that happen, you can tell them at two o’clock in the morning when that demon calls that there’s other ways you can handle that.”

Like the men and women who approach his bench, Judge Hannah is an addict.

MORE | Crisis Court: An Inside Look

Hannah, who’s addicted to cocaine, has been sober for 18 years. He’s careful not to be overconfident, something he teaches his defendants.

“If you think you’re bigger than this, that’s when it comes back and hits you like a sledgehammer.”

He never uses the term “former addict,” because Hannah said addiction is something you have to tackle every day. Each day he doesn’t use, is another victory. That mentality is one he tries to teach the people who end up in Opioid Court.

An arrest overseas and being emotionally cut off from his mother was the beginning of Hannah’s recovery.

Judge Craig Hannah oversees Buffalo’s Opioid Court

“When you see that your main supporter is telling you I’m about to wash my hands with you, that was the impetus.”

Hannah doesn’t believe you have to hit rock bottom to get clean, and it’s something he wants to help the people in his courtroom avoid.

Opioid Court he said, is also a two-way street.

“This is helping me stay clean as well. Because you tell people your story and you let them know there’s really no difference between me and them, the only difference is time.”

The main goal of Opioid Court, which is the first of its kind in the country, is to keep defendants alive.

The program began May 1. So far, no participants have died of an overdose.

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