Scarborough police add 'hope' to drug-fighting arsenal

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SCARBOROUGH — Opiate and heroin users in Scarborough will soon have the option of relying on police for direction to detox and rehabilitation. 

The Police Department will unveil Operation Hope on Oct. 1 as a local means to combat the heroin and opiate epidemic that has afflicted much of the state. 

Police Chief Robbie Moulton, Patrol Officer John Gill and Crime Analyst Jaime Higgins announced the program at the Wednesday, Sept. 16, Town Council meeting.

Gill described it as “not a solution to this heroin and opiate problem in Maine,” but rather “a stop-gap measure until the real solutions come along.”

The initiative is a partnership between the Police Department, the Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, and the Portland Recovery Community Center

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that we have a very serious heroin and opioid (problem),” Moulton said.

So far in 2015 “we have had one confirmed overdose death, (and) we’ve deployed Narcan on 10 occasions to bring someone back from near certain death,” he said. 

“I can’t stress enough that we really need to think about the face of addiction and how it has changed. It pervades all walks of life and socioeconomic statuses. It’s a disease and we really need to recognize it as such,” Moulton said. “It’s a real public health problem. There needs to be some way to give hope to folks who are trapped in this vicious cycle of addiction.”

About 80-85 percent of the crimes that the Police Department deals with on a daily basis, Gill said, “are driven by opiate addiction.”

With Operation Hope, when officers make a drug-related arrest they will also distribute information about how and where to seek addiction treatment, Gill said.

Treatment information will also be passed along when officers in the field suspect someone of using drugs. 

The department also plans to allow opiate and heroin users to bring in their drugs and materials and to turn over at the department “without fear of arrest or being charged,” Gill said. 

Those people will have the option of undergoing a health screening by local emergency responders and being paired with a trained volunteer, known as an “angel,” who will walk them through the detox and rehabilitation process. 

They will also be screened to determined whether they qualify for placement at a treatment center, Gill said. 

Officers will be trained how to approach victims of addiction by representatives from the Portland Recovery Community Center. 

“We think it’s important that officers see what’s possible with recovery,” Gill said. It’s imperative for officers to remember that, even though they might be coming into contact with someone “in the worst possible conditions,” he said, that the person “sitting in the back of their cruiser is not the person they’re capable of being.”

Once this initiative starts, “we hope that additional support, assistance and partnerships will be forthcoming,” Gill said. 

A challenge will be figuring out how to financially support those who need treatment, but can’t afford it, since insurance options – especially for drug users –are very limited, Gill said Thursday morning. 

In the meantime, he said, “We are intent on changing Maine’s response to addiction and helping (to) find ways to move forward and seek solutions, to give a face to recovery, to show what is possible, and to hopefully save lives.” 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.