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Police Prefer Treatment over Incarceration for Addicts
Monday, 27 June 2016
| County News & Features | | | 0 Comments

​​Prince William County police officers have taken to carrying around business cards with phone numbers for the Prince William County Community Services Board printed on them. When they find someone who is addicted to opioids, the police officers give the drug users one of the cards and hope people will use it to call for help.

The business cards are the first step of the Rapid Entry Program, which aims to help people who are using opioids such as Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Percocet and heroin, receive treatment as quickly as possible. The police department and the Community Services Board, or CSB, have been working together for the last six months to help drug users find their way out of addiction and to combat a rise in opioid use.

Lt. Brandan Dudley, of the police department's Special Investigations Bureau, said timing is key in getting opioid and heroin addicts the help they need. The normal waiting period for substance abuse counseling can take time that the addicts don't have. The coordinating program between the police and CSB identifies drug users and gets them counse​ling within three to five days. "If the abusers want the treatment we can actually get them in right away. The normal timeframe for someone to get treatment is over two weeks. With heroin users, that's too long."

Susan Harris, a Prince William County CSB therapist, said that police typically encounter drug users in response to criminal activity. Sometimes, Harris said, the arrest or potential arrest opens people to the idea of getting help. "A lot of times, if a person has been arrested or visited by the police, that's when they may be more treatment-ready. You really want to get people when they're motivated. The sooner we can get them in, the sooner we can link them to services and assign their case."

Dudley said the police recognize arresting addicts won't fix the problem. So, the department has turned to trying to get addicts into treatment. "We like to focus … on getting these folks more help, and not so much arresting them and putting them in jail. Somebody can walk into the front desk of Garfield Police Station or the Western District Station and just say, 'Hey listen. I have an addiction problem and I want to get help,' and we'll get them signed up in the Rapid Entry Program. We do not have to make an arrest for them to get that treatment. We're just trying to get them in the door to get help."

Once someone gets in touch with the police or community services, Harris said, they help them to find a medical provider to treat their addiction. CSB also helps people navigate their insurance plans. The goal of the program is to get people the help they need before their addiction leads them down a road of increased criminal activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin use in the United States has increased among "men, women, most age groups and all income levels." Women, people with higher incomes and the privately insured have historically been groups with the lowest rates of heroin use. But in recent years, heroin use has shown some of its greatest increases among people in those demographics.

Maj. Steven Thompson, the police department's assistant chief for the Criminal Investigation Division, said Prince William County has residents that are among the statistics. "It's a nationwide issue with opiate overdoses occurring on a daily basis all across the United States. We're not immune to that."

Prince William Police Department documents show that in 2013, there were 10 fatal heroin overdoses. In 2014, 11 people died from heroin overdoses. Another 11 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015.  

To complicate matters, police are also seeing people mix heroin with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and drug dealers have taken to selling straight Fentanyl, Harris said. "The rate of overdose is many times what it used to be. People are mixing Fentanyl with opiates, which is really dangerous."

While successfully treating opioid addiction can take as long as two years, initial indicators seem to show that the county program is working so far. People are calling the numbers on the business cards, Harris said. "We've been very fortunate to have a really good relationship with the police department. Not everybody that has an opiate problem has a legal problem, but many of them do. This has just been another way for us to reach folks and get them into treatment. We've gotten a pretty good response with people calling, people coming and showing up for the initial appointment."

For help or more information about the program call Harris at 703-792-4905 or call Danielle Pfost-Banks at 703-792-7844.

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