A growing number of police departments are trying new approaches to battling the heroin epidemic, the Associated Press reports.
Instead of simply arresting people, they are helping steer people into treatment.
In Colerain Township in Ohio, a “Quick Response Team” includes police officers, paramedics and addiction counselors. Dan Meloy, the township’s Public Safety Director, told the AP the program appears to be having an impact already. When the program started last July, Meloy thought the township would end up with more than 200 overdoses in 2015. By the end of the year, there were 167 overdoses.
The program is also helping to reduce other crimes, Meloy noted. “They’re not breaking into their neighbors’ sheds, they’re not robbing the local stores, they’re not stealing from their families trying to feed their habit,” he said.
John Tharp, sheriff in Lucas County, Ohio, says some people object to this new approach, and say those who use heroin should be locked up. “We may think this is soft (for police), but when you have a crisis in your community, you need to be proactive. We’re being aggressive.”
The county formed a Drug Abuse Response Team in June 2014. People who survive a heroin overdose, along with their families, meet with police and counselors. Hundreds of people have entered treatment through the program, Tharp said.
After the Police Chief of Gloucester, Massachusetts announced the town will connect people with treatment when they come to the police station with illegal drugs and paraphernalia, instead of arresting them, 56 police departments in 17 states have started similar programs.
An additional 110 police departments are preparing to start programs that emphasize treatment over incarceration, The New York Times reported last month. Two hundred treatment centers nationwide have agreed to be partners in these programs.