Under a promising initiative called HOPE, Southington police officers could be making fewer arrests for drug possession and more referrals for drug addiction services and other help for users.
The town has joined New Britain, Berlin and Newington in the Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education initiative, which partners with hospitals and addiction recovery services. Instead of charging someone with possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia and sending him or her into the court system, police can refer the user to services including a recovery coach. Hartford HealthCare and the hospital group’s Behavioral Health Network are providing the services.
Southington Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri said fewer arrests of drug users may also mean more time for police to find and arrest drug dealers.
“These are the people who truly deserve to get arrested,” he said. “That’s where we need to focus our efforts.”
Opioid-involved overdose deaths have been rising dramatically in Connecticut since 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2017, there were 955 overdose deaths involving opioids in Connecticut — a rate that is almost double the national rate.
Southington resident Christine Gagnon spoke in favor of the HOPE program at a recent press conference. Her son Michael, who was addicted to heroin and other drugs, died two years ago. Gagnon said access to recovery services at the right time might have saved his life.
“It’s widely known that if someone is asking for help, time is critical and the window is small,” Gagnon said.
With the HOPE program, a police officer might have been able to steer Gagnon’s son to services such as a recovery coach. A recovery coach is usually someone who has overcome a substance abuse issue in his or her own life and now works with patients to ensure that they get the care they need.
By now it’s clear that law enforcement alone is not going to end the addiction crisis in this country, or this community. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Palmieri said.