Approaching (or being approached by) law enforcement can be really terrifying for a drug addict. Even if you are in immediate fear for your life, sadly you will have to balance that terror with the realization that you could be charged with drug possession – or worse.

A few programs around the country have begun to spring up, however – programs that allow law enforcement to forego arrest in exchange for the user’s agreement to enter treatment. What is happening with Maine’s Operation Hope can be really terrifying for a drug addict. Even if you are in immediate fear for your life, sadly you will have to balance that terror with the realization that you could be charged with drug possession – or worse. A few programs around the country have begun to spring up, however – programs that allow law enforcement to forego arrest in exchange for the user’s agreement to enter treatment. This is what you is happening with Operation Hope, a program in Scarborough, Pennsylvania that is focused on helping Maine residents with substance abuse disorders.

So far, the program has helped over 200 Maine residents enter long-term treatment programs, and operates on scholarship services offered by a national network of treatment facilities.

The increase in drug addiction overdoses have certainly been difficult for the police as well. They are paid to follow protocol – whatever that may be. Yes, drugs can be confiscated, but that doesn’t really do much in the long run to prevent further abuse.

When the demand is there, drugs will keep coming – and so will drug dealers. The only real way you can reduce the demand is to help the person demanding the drugs into recovery.

Furthermore, incarceration isn’t well-known for its ability to rehabilitate offenders. It’s punitive – and people don’t learn well from punishment. What they need is treatment, support, and help. Otherwise, when they end up back on the street, they are likely to fall right back into their old habits.

Like much of the country, Maine has been suffering from a massive increase in opioid-related deaths. Between 2011-2014, heroin-related deaths increased by an astonishing 714%, while fentanyl deaths nearly quadrupled. Meanwhile, treatment remains hard to find – beds are very limited, and access to government-funded health care has been reduced.

Operation Hope

If you’ve never been to Scarborough, it’s quite lovely. It’s a town just south of Portland, and is home to beautiful beaches and upscale homes. It’s not at all what you would expect of a town with a heroin problem. And yet, it is very much present.

Scarborough police officer John Gill:

“In our own relatively affluent and quiet suburban community, we had already experienced one overdose death and had administered naloxone to reverse the deadly effects of overdoses an alarming nine times. At the same time, we assessed that 80 to 85 percent of property crimes in our community such as thefts, burglaries, and shoplifting incidents, were drug-related as people sought to fund their drug addictions.“

Gill, along with a local recovery center, devised a plan to train volunteers or “angels” to assist officers working with substance abusers at the police department.

Through Operation Hope, Scarborough law enforcement have received training on issues related to addiction, including the personal perspectives of those in recovery.

The purpose is to help officers more effectively interact and help people who suffer from substance use disorders. When an officer responds to a call in which addiction or substance abuse is suspected, the person or family members are given an Operation Hope flyer, as well as an offer of assistance for further help.

In addition, any person who approaches the Scarborough Police Department and requests help via Operation Hope is permitted to turn in drugs, needles, and other paraphernalia, without fear of being arrested or charged for a crime.

Upon requesting help, the person is screened to determine eligibility for treatment program participation. Those found to meet requirements are assigned an “angel”, who helps them step through the process from detox to recovery. This means immediate placement in a treatment program whenever possible. Angel volunteers are sometimes persons currently in recovery from addiction, while others are community members who seek to address the issue by helping others.

Officer Gill:

“From a personal, human perspective, the responses we have seen from people suffering from substance use disorder have been remarkable. It takes a tremendous amount of courage for these folks to walk through the doors of a police department to ask for help. Most of these folks have spent the better part of their adult lives trying to avoid the police. When they are so sick that they are willing to come to us for help, that serves as a clear sign of their commitment to get better.”

Commentary

Maine is just one state that has been massively affected by the epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, and 2014, more than 28,000 persons in the United States died from opioid-related overdoses.

In order to help addicts and curb demand, more communities need to begin adopting such programs. Without giving a pass to drug traffickers, it is a more forward-thinking approach to the war on drugs, which by all accounts, hasn’t worked to curb addiction.