Molly Carney has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and spent many years as a research scientist at the University of Washington. Her entire career has been in substance use treatment. Carney also has an MBA, and most recently served as executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services, a leading nonprofit in Puget Sound treating people who are dependent on opioids. ETS also operates the REACH team which is a street based, case management program that works with homeless adults throughout King County.
“We know that arresting people doesn’t help them recover from substance use disorders. Instead, it perpetuates the problem. We see people who are in and out of jail over and over and over again. Each time they are jailed or incarcerated, they lose ground – resources, credibility, hope, and a sense of a positive identity.
“The impact on people of color of criminalizing substance use disorder is even more debilitating. It is a fact that communities of color are hit disproportionately with both substance use disorders and with incarcerations for these conditions. It makes providing care even more challenging since building trust is critical for someone to begin their recovery. I’ve seen that when a Seattle police officer comes into our clinic, people flee. They are terrified of how the police will interact with them even when they are in treatment.”
Carney says offering social services instead of incarceration works for many people, and that more and more law enforcement professionals are getting on board with this approach. “When we interviewed Brandon for his recovery story, he shared his mugshots with us; he had been arrested 30 times. Brandon was homeless and an active heroin user for 12 years before finally getting into treatment that worked for him. He’s now in a masters program for cell biology. Just goes to show how far people can come when given the opportunity.”
Carney points to new approaches like the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that lets Seattle Police Department officers directly connect people using drugs with case managers who can assess their needs, and plug them into the programs and services that address the issues underlying their substance use disorders.
“When someone is caught by SPD for a substance use-related charge, a LEAD program case manager works on the client’s behalf to get whatever services they need to address what is driving the behavior – from untreated substance use disorder or untreated mental illness, to homelessness, or needing employment skills to earn a viable living. The UW has published a study assessing the huge positive impact of this program. The researchers found the LEAD program significantly reduces recidivism. It’s so effective, the police are supportive, and it costs 1/10 of throwing people in jail over and over again. LEAD is now being implemented in many jurisdictions across the country.”