Police welcome initiative to help those with addiction issues

Police welcome initiative to help those with addiction issues

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A new initiative being introduced in Plainville will give some individuals with addiction issues a chance to avoid arrest and get medical help instead. 

The initiative known as HOPE – Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education – is a collaboration between local police, prosecutors and healthcare providers. Plainville is the sixth town to join the initiative since it began in November 2018, joining New Britain, Berlin, Southington, Wethersfield and Newington.

“Addiction is a very difficult topic and we don't have all the answers as police, but this program offers us another tool to give people guidance and medical help to overcome their addiction,” said Plainville Police Chief Matthew Catania. 

From the launch of HOPE to September 2019, 88 people have accessed the program in the participating municipalities.

State Attorney Brian Preleski said, “So far that’s 88 more folks that would have otherwise been arrested and ended up in the criminal justice system and instead they’re in the medical system where they can get help for their addiction.”  

Rather than automatically making an arrest, the HOPE program allows police to choose to bring an individual to local hospitals to be entered into treatment. Individuals can also choose to enter themselves by visiting a participating police department or hospital, with treatment being free for those without health insurance.

The program only applies to those facing minor charges such as possession of small quantities of opioids, and individuals can only make use of the program once to avoid prosecution. Based on their judgment and the circumstances, officers still have the discretion to choose whether to arrest or refer someone to the HOPE program.

“I was absolutely encouraged that the program is designed to offer people genuine help and it makes me believe we can be a part of helping people,” Catania said, adding that the framework is realistic within the parameters of their work as a law enforcement agency.

On the Hartford Healthcare side of the initiative, Director of Behavioral Health Jessica Collins said the program gives those addicted to opioids another avenue to connect with recovery services, either through routine interactions with police or at the time of a potential arrest.

Once individuals are referred to a treatment program in the hospital, they’re connected with psychiatric nurses and recovery coaches to evaluate what services fit them best. Most are connected with outpatient providers, though those with long-term or severe addiction may enter inpatient facilities.

Patients can also receive a dose of Suboxone, a drug that prevents withdrawal symptoms and curbs opioid cravings, which can help avoid relapses and is increasingly part of long-term treatment.

“HOPE is really the hub to pull it all together,” Collins said, adding that the impact of the program is especially notable since it doesn’t receive any funding from participating municipalities or Hartford Healthcare. “It’s not anything that requires any additional work or effort,” she said, explaining that the program is just a change in the approach to addiction issues. 

Catania explained that, although the formal participation of police with prosecutors and healthcare providers is new, officers have long recognized addiction as more than a law enforcement issue. Consequently, police often have looked for alternatives to arrest and various ways to assist people with drug issues. As this initiative streamlines such efforts and has the administration’s support, Catania believes going forward that officers will fully embrace it.

“We’re willing to try whatever we can, within reason, to get addicted persons help. We see the end result of addiction. We see it in the overdose deaths and the destruction to families,” Catania said. “I think we've been very fortunate in Plainville that when the officers get an initiative like this they implement it.”

Preleski said the opioid crisis has resulted in around 1,000 fatal overdoses a year in Connecticut. However, as physicians have become more aware of painkiller addition issues, and prescriptions have declined, overdose rates have plateaued. He said residents should be aware there’s a statute in place that prevents people from being arrested for opioid possession if they’re calling for assistance in an overdose.

Plainville Police Lt. Nicholas Mullins said he hopes the department’s efforts can play some part in helping individuals caught up in the epidemic. “Let's be honest, there's going to be times it's not going to work, but we’re hoping this program will kind of help increase the numbers of people who are overcoming addiction,” he said.

Twitter: @leith_yessian