SCARBOROUGH — When Liane was told to visit the Scarborough Police Department for help with her addiction to heroin, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
Seeking help from the police wasn’t something she was used to.
“Living as an addict, you’re kind of scared of the police,” she said.
Liane, 24, who asked not to be identified by her last name, had been using milder opiates since her teens. In her early 20s she transitioned to heroin.
For more than a year prior to finding treatment in Portland through the Scarborough Police Department’s Operation Hope program, Liane knew she wanted help with her addiction.
“When actively using, I knew I needed help, but didn’t know where to turn,” she said Wednesday morning at the Portland Recovery Community Center.
“I wanted to get clean, but I couldn’t be left to my own devices to do it,” she said. “It got to the point where I knew I needed to be institutionalized.”
She had tried twice, unsuccessfully, to check herself into treatment centers. An out-of-state facility didn’t admit her because of her history with depression and the need for a dual diagnosis, which the center didn’t have the resources to treat.
Last summer Liane went with her mother to Mercy Hospital, but they were turned away with the suggestion she instead visit a methadone clinic.
Her situation seemed particularly hopeless because she didn’t have a mandate, such as a court order, that forced her to have treatment. “My life was just really unmanageable,” she said.
Meanwhile, Operation Hope was formed last fall by Chief Robbie Moulton, Officer John Gill and Crime Analyst Jaime Higgins to combat the heroin and opiate epidemic in the state. It offers users a path away from addiction that doesn’t necessarily include jail time.
From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of heroin-related deaths increased by 714 percent across the state, Gill said in late October. On a daily basis in Scarborough, 80-85 percent of the crimes that the department deals with “are driven by opiate addiction,” he said.
Helping the increasing number of heroin users in the state – beyond simply arresting them and getting them off the street – fell to the department, Gill said, because the state has been too slow in handling the problem.
In late October, Liane attended a meeting at the Portland Recovery Community Center on Forest Avenue. In desperation after the meeting, she pulled one of the participants aside and asked her how she could find treatment.
Liane met with Steve Cotreau, the program manager at the center and manager of Operation Hope, who told her he wanted to put her in touch with one of the Angels, or volunteers, in the program.
That day, as she was having withdrawals, Liane was taken to the Scarborough Police Station.
She walked in, introduced herself, and was greeted warmly.
“Everyone was so friendly and so caring,” Liane said. It was something she hadn’t experienced before. “They were looking at me with respect.”
As she was filling out forms, Moulton came up to her and offered congratulations.
“I was thinking, ‘You’re thanking me? I should be thanking you,'” she said.
Liane stayed at the police station for two hours, was fed, and watched five other individuals come in seeking treatment. All of them were placed and, to her amazement, so was she.
“It was like then and there – ‘We can get you into treatment tonight,'” she said.
That day, Oct. 28, was as “the best day of my life,” Liane said. “The law enforcement support blew my mind.”
Liane was placed in a free, three-phase recovery program at Ginger’s House, a recovery center for women in Portland.
Steve Cotreau, program manager at the Portland Recovery Community Center and manager of Operation Hope, said this type of immediate free placement, and placement in general, is virtually unheard of.
Operation Hope has “made the difference of no access to access,” he said.
“I think it’s because it’s something that’s so outside the box that there’s a response from providers,” Cotreau said. “What the police are doing is such an anomaly that it gets attention.”
Earlier this week, Operation Hope placed the 100th person into treatment since the program started Oct. 1, 2015 – an average of one person a day, and sometimes as many as 10.
Higgins, the crime analyst, said a little more than 30 of those individuals have been insured. The rest were either admitted free of charge, or family members helped make a payment.
“I feel like they would go to any lengths to get someone into treatment,” Liane said.
After being clean for 2 1/2 months, “I feel really hopeful,” she said. “Going from that lifestyle to living a sober life, it’s exciting.”
There still are and probably always will be hard days, but even the worst day sober is better than the best day using, she said.
“The desire to live a healthy, normal life and be a functioning member of society,” Liane added, “is what I look forward to.”
Now in its fourth month, the Scarborough Police Department’s Operation Hope has placed more than 100 individuals in substance abuse treatment centers.