‘It will be about 1 person at a time’: Portland police liaison ready to help opioid users

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PORTLAND — Oliver Bradeen is taking on a job where he will often see people at their worst, with hope he can help them become their best.

“It will be about one person at a time getting well and getting their lives back,” Bradeen said Monday about his role as the liaison for the Police Department’s new Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program.

Bradeen, 27, began the job Feb. 1, and said he expects it will be another week before he is fully involved in getting opioid users help.

“I will be working between agencies, anybody and everybody, to connect people with the right resources,” he said.

Established last December by Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, and funded with proceeds from drug forfeitures, LEAAP is largely patterned after a city program that provides mental health resources for people in crisis.

For more than two years, Bradeen worked as a liaison for Opportunity Alliance, accompanying city police on calls where people were facing mental health problems.

“The majority of calls I went to before involved some kind of substance abuse,” he said.

LEAAP is not solely about getting users placement at treatment centers. It is also about finding connections that help opioid users stop, and to have police stop arresting them.

“No one wants to keep arresting somebody over and over,” Bradeen said. “They are not taking pleasure in that. They want to see them have productive lives.”

More than anything, Bradeen said he will devote his time and energy to people he will meet on police calls or from referrals, knowing there will be occasions when all he can give is his time.

“Even if there isn’t a bed for somebody, it is important I go to see them and communicate,” he said.

He said he is especially interested in working with people who are just about to be released from the Cumberland County Jail, who are vulnerable to returning to bad situations.

“I’m open to meeting people where they are and seeing what they want for themselves,” he said.

Unlike Operation Hope in Scarborough, LEAAP may not seek to immediately place opioid users in treatment programs.

“I think what gets confusing is people I think I have some special connection or resource. I don’t have that, but I am OK with that,” he said.

Bradeen, who grew up in the Camden-Rockport area, said he was imbued with a desire to help people from an early age because his father was a doctor and his mother a nurse.

“I used to go on rounds with my father,” he said. “I would watch him talk to people and treat them with respect and as people.”

As an adolescent, he said he suffered from depression after two sisters died in a car accident, and the help he got from a social worker became an inspiration.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, ‘I want to help people,’ but what does that mean?” he said.

LEAAP also has roots in the substance abuse subcommittee established by former Mayor Michael Brennan almost two years ago. A year ago, the subcommittee heard from Kris Nyrop, who works with the King County, Washington, public defenders and a diversion program called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD.

LEAAP is not as inclusive a program, since LEAD also involves prosecutors and targets nonviolent offenders with substance abuse disorders by providing housing and treatment.

Bradeen said he enjoyed his work as a mental health liaison and will be using the same qualities with LEAAP.

“When I think of the priorities it takes to do this job, it is to show up and do whatever needs to be done. … I’ll sit by a hospital bed if someone will let me,” he said.

While his approach may be singular to the people he seeks to help, he hopes to create a collective view.

“There was this idea that it was low-income transient populations affected by this, but people from all walks of life are affected,” Bradeen said. “It is an everyone problem.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Oliver Bradeen, the new Portland Police Deparment liaison to assist opioid users: “I will be working between agencies, anybody and everybody, to connect people with the right resources.”

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.