Buyers swept up in drug trafficking surveillance operations could avoid prosecution by choosing to enter treatment programs under a new program unveiled Thursday in Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city.

The goal of the Buyer Diversion Treatment Alternative is to nudge lower-level drug offenders away from the criminal justice system and toward recovery from addiction, state and city officials said. The choice between arrest and treatment would not be offered to dealers or to any buyers who have violent criminal backgrounds.

“There is a big difference between someone dealing drugs and selling drugs in the community versus someone who is purchasing drugs to feed their own addiction,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who joined police and prosecutors to announce the program’s rollout.

The program offers an alternative path to recovery for people willing to change their lives, while allowing the criminal justice system to focus on more serious crimes, she said.

The pilot program is the first of its kind in the state but, if successful, could be tested elsewhere, officials said. It is similar to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, programs that were developed in Seattle in 2011 and have since spread to other U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Albany, New York, and Bangor, Maine, according to the LEAD National Support Bureau.

A $99,000 state grant will allow police to hire a case manager to serve as a liaison between law enforcement and treatment centers.

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