Innovative Approaches Local Governments Can Take To Address the Opioid Epidemic

With over four decades of law enforcement and public safety experience,Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) co-founder and Principal Leonard Matarese weighs in how local governments can and should response to the growing opioid epidemic:

Certainly, the most challenging issue facing public safety agencies will be dealing with the continuing issue of the opioid epidemic. To put the deadly seriousness of this problem, consider that in just one year, 2016, nearly as many people died from opioid overdoses as all U.S. fatalities during the entire course of the Vietnam War. As the epidemic continues we learn from many jurisdictions, of individuals overdosing multiple times, sometimes within the same day, who are reversed only to finally die from yet another overdose.

The epidemic is changing the way local law enforcement agencies and local government managers must think about drugs – to go beyond just enforcement to understand that their role is to not only help in saving an overdosed person but also to help get drug users into treatment before they kill themselves. This will require agencies to become proactive in this challenge using data to identify individuals who have experienced non-fatal overdoes and working with health authorities and social services agencies to get treatment to these persons before their next overdose. This will require information sharing between police agencies to identify overdose patterns to help focus these efforts. Public Safety agencies, including not just the police but also Fire/EMS, must become a point of access to treatment. This means actively publicizing that anyone with the disease of addiction could come into the police or fire station to seek help and they would not be arrested, they would not be judged. They would be helped into treatment. The Gloucester, MA Police Department initiated such an approach in June of 2015. Since then 545 people have taken advantage of this program and all have been placed into treatment on the same day.

Public Safety officials and local government managers will need to understand that this challenge will require additional resources both in personnel and training and new thinking about appropriate staff required – such as social workers within the police agency. It will also demand that these officials must continually evaluate their programs and actively monitor national trends to identify successful efforts by other organizations, such as the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), which is a nonprofit organization that helps police agencies adopt the “Gloucester Model” of encouraging addicted persons to come to the police for help in getting treatment services.

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