One California city is trying to change the way we look at drug addiction and more importantly, drug treatment, in America. “Drug Free Anaheim” is the first California initiative of its kind, and if it is successful, then it may lead to other community-level approaches to deal with the ongoing overdose epidemic.
Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada says, “Drug addiction plays far too large a role in criminal activity, and we must collectively do everything that we can to reduce the number of people in our families, neighborhoods and community suffering from this physical and emotional dependency.”
How Does the Program Work?
To keep the program accessible, the rules are simple:
- Anyone with a chemical dependency can just contact any police officer or simply show up at the Anaheim police station and say they need help.
- They will then be put in contact with a local nonprofit for screening and evaluation. From there, they will be referred to an appropriate treatment provider.
- Even if the person has drugs in their possession, they won’t be arrested or charged. Instead, officers will safely dispose of the drugs, without penalty.
Anaheim officers receive special training that lets them respond with assistance and empathy instead of an arrest. Chief Quezada says, “It’s pretty huge for someone who uses narcotics to come into the Police Department’s doors and say that they want help. We WANT to help them.”
Emulating Proven Success
Anaheim’s program is modeled after the “Angel Program” sponsored by the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts, which has helped over 500 addicts since mid-2015. During the same time period, crime in and around Gloucester has dropped 27%.
Speaking on behalf of the Gloucester PD, John Guilfoil said, “This focuses on turning a drug addiction into a health care issue. Police are not responding with handcuffs, but by getting people the help that they need.”
Why California? Why Now?
Opioid abuse in Southern California is a daily—and deadly—concern. In 2006, just 12% of Anaheim-area young adults in drug rehab were there because of heroin or prescription pain medications, but today, the number has spiked to 44%.
At his February 2016 “State of the City” address, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, a vocal supporter of the program, said, “From now on, drug addicts will be encouraged to come in and ask for help. We will seek alternatives to prosecution and incarceration.”
What Can We Learn?
If law enforcement agencies are willing to treat substance abuse as a health problem, rather than a criminal action, maybe the rest of us can reach that understanding, as well.
This means that if you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol or drugs, then NOW is the time to get seek professional treatment. Lasting Recovery outpatient rehab in San Diego can help.
Help is waiting. Contact us now.
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