ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTW) — The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the North Carolina’s District Attorney’s Office for a program called LEAD.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) was created to help people who experience drug and substance abuse. Although they have a success rate, they are facing other challenges. That challenge is sustainability.

“So usually when someone is out committing crimes, they’ll get charged, go to jail, have to go through the regular court system. With LEAD it’s a bit different. We use our officers who are on the ground talking with the individuals that are out on the street. They’re usually more familiar with these people who are struggling with addiction and substance abuse,” said MaryJane Richardson, Assistant District Attorney.

People who are caught committing low-level crimes because of substance disorders will go to rehab instead of jail with the help of this program. According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, in 2020, there were nearly 538,000 violent crime incidents reported in the U.S. Of those, 9,127 were linked to drug and narcotic violations. According to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, in that same year, they had 51 drug overdose deaths.

So far, more than 20 people in the county are in the program. Program Director Sgt. Hollis McNeil said they’ve already had success stories.

“I worked in this jail for almost 3.5 years and you would always see people that you knew that really didn’t need to be in Robeson County jail, they needed something else,” Hollis said. “We’ve had several people that we thought were too far gone and they are actually doing very well. Some of them even gained education and one is working for his diploma as we speak.”

Richardson said LEAD is from NC DHHS Adult Drug Treatment Court. It is funded through the Bureau of Justice Assistance under the Department of Justice. The challenge is keeping the program funded.

“We’re often running off of these grants that are awarded to us for short periods of time. So we need to find ways with local law enforcement, local legislatures people in government who can help us fund these programs long term. Because we have a long term solution to an issue that’s been growing for decades that we can actually make a real impact,” Richardson said.