Liza Creel, PhD, speaks at press conference announcing new LEAD program
Liza Creel, PhD, speaks at press conference announcing new LEAD program

Researchers in UofL’s Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, housed in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences, have joined with partners from across public and private sectors to announce the development of Kentucky’s first Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, known as LEAD, to divert opioid addicted people from jails in favor of case management and treatment.

The LEAD program, which first launched in Seattle in 2011, is an innovative pre-booking, community-based program focused on routing individuals suspected of committing low-level drug-related offenses away from jail and prosecution into treatment.

Louisville has been awarded a $400,000 federal grant to fund a pilot project, serving 50 qualifying individuals who come into contact with police in the Portland and Russell neighborhoods over the next 18 months.

“The Opioid crisis remains a vital concern to public safety in this community,” said Mayor Greg Fischer. “But incarceration cannot be the only option for those struggling with addiction. We must find ways to divert people to treatment and stem the tide of drug-related crime. This program is one more option for our community.”

Commonwealth Institute research scholars Liza Creel, PhD, and Susan Buchino, PhD, will conduct the evaluation, ensuring the program is working as it should.

“By following an evidence-based intervention that has shown success in other communities and designing it to meet Louisville’s needs, the Louisville LEAD pilot has great potential to positively impact participant lives and our community,” Creel said.

The research team will look specifically at the impact of LEAD on:

  • Recidivism, including arrests and charges
  • Use of publically-funded legal and criminal justice services
  • Costs to the local criminal justice system
  • Use of treatment and other services after LEAD enrollment
  • And fidelity to the Seattle-model (the extent to which the Louisville LEAD pilot aligns with the model implemented in Seattle)

“UofL is committed to enhancing the well-being of our city through research and collaboration. We look forward to sharing our evaluation findings over the next two years,” she said.

The program is expected to fully launch by Oct. 1.

Here’s how it will work:

  • LMPD officers working in the targeted beats in the Russell and Portland neighborhoods will use discretionary authority at the point of contact to divert eligible candidates into intervention for offenses driven by substance use disorder.
  • The LMPD officer will determine eligibility for the LEAD program based on established offense criteria and criminal history exclusions. Eligible crimes will include felony possession of an opiate and possession of heroin under two grams, as well as low-level property crime stemming from opiate addiction.
  • Instead of taking them to jail, officers will take those volunteering to participate to the Volunteers of America Mid-States triage location on West Broadway to be connected with a case manager.
  • Within 72-hours a potential participant must complete an in-depth assessment before becoming one of the 50 pilot project participants to receive treatment and wrap-around services.
  • Volunteers of America Mid-States will assume responsibility for the case management of the individuals.
  • UofL’s Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky will conduct the evaluation of the program.

“So often, officers come into contact with members of our community who are committing crime as part of their addiction to opioids and other drugs,” said Col. Michael Sullivan, deputy chief for Louisville Metro Police. “This gives officers a tool to divert people into treatment, rather than taking them to jail, where they may or may not get to address the underlying issue leading them to crime.”

Volunteers of America Mid-States will work with pilot program participants to coordinate services they need to get themselves back to a healthy and productive lifestyle.

“We know that we can change people’s lives when we surround them with professional care and treatment and access to comprehensive support and services,” said Jennifer Hancock, President and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States. “Opioid use and addiction is a public health crisis and LEAD will be successful because it offers a public health solution.”