This Note will analyze the current ways heroin users are treated, stigmatized, and left with very little options upon recovery to support themselves and live a normal, productive life. Specifically, this Note will focus on how New York handles heroin users and their experiences with the criminal justice system. This Note proposes the decriminalization, not legalization, of only heroin use. To help addicts with recovery, diversionary courts and programs should be removed from the criminal justice system and instead act as a civil court. Additionally, the creation of a “medical dependent” classification will allow families to effectively force the individual into a treatment program without getting the individual in the criminal justice system or declared mentally unfit. Rather than family or friends attempting to declare a loved one mentally incapacitated in order to force the loved one into treatment, a heroin user who is arrested or apprehended by law enforcement would be brought to a diversion court where he or she would be declared medically dependent and assigned a Medical Guardian who could make relevant medical decisions to provide the addict appropriate treatment without further stigma. A medical dependent standard would allow recovered addicts to easily transition back into society without being labeled a criminal, a drug addict, or in general, a bad person, allowing them to secure gainful employment or enroll in higher education without being denied those opportunities because of a prior chemical dependency.
Part II of this Note will discuss the current New York criminal system for heroin users, including the arrest process and diversion courts, the current way to force individuals into treatment, and the current efficacy of the diversion program. It will also discuss the stigma of drug use and a criminal record. Part III will (1) discuss the proposed new standard of medical dependency, the arrest process, the treatment program, and the creation of a medical dependent classification; (2) compare medical dependency and mental incapacitation; and (3) discuss the efficacy of forced treatment. Part IV will discuss how the current system can be converted to this new standard, minimizing costs and reducing the burden on taxpayers. Part V concludes.