NPD part­ners with Con­nec­tions to aid opi­oid epi­demic

Newark Post - - LOCAL NEWS - By BROOKE SCHULTZ [email protected]­pub.com

A new part­ner­ship be­tween the Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment and Con­nec­tions, a pro­gram the sup­ports in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness and sub­stance ad­dic­tion, was just “com­mon sense,” Lt. Den­nis Ani­u­nas said.

“When you look at the heroin epi­demic across the coun­try, it’s some­thing that re­quires out-of-the-box think­ing, how to even be­gin to ap­proach it,” he con­tin­ued. “This just seemed like a great al­ter­na­tive for the right peo­ple.”

The two or­ga­ni­za­tions are work­ing to­gether on AN­GEL, a pro­gram that be­gan in 2015 in Mas­sachusetts in re­sponse to the opi­oid epi­demic.

The pro­gram will al­low in­di­vid­u­als to walk into the Ne­wark Po­lice sta­tion on South Main Street and re­quest treat­ment with­out le­gal reper­cus­sions, even if they pos­sess small amounts of drugs or drug para­pher­na­lia. Ad­di­tion­ally, when po­lice re­spond to a crime, charges can be de­ferred if the sus­pect en­ters and com­pletes treat­ment.

Of­fi­cials said de­ci­sions are made on a case-by-case ba­sis and at an of­fi­cer’s dis­cre­tion.

“With the opi­oid cri­sis, we’ve asked the po­lice to han­dle this,” said Amy Ke­vis, di­rec­tor of crim­i­nal jus­tice and com­mu­nity part­ner­ships at Con­nec­tions. “They don’t re­ally have the right tools, and in­car­cer­a­tion isn’t the best op­tion for these folks. This is giv­ing po­lice that tool in their tool­box; now they know where to take peo­ple.”

Con­nec­tions has been op­er­at­ing for about 30 years through­out Delaware and Mary­land.

The part­ner­ship with Ne­wark Po­lice be­gan after Ke­vis, a former po­lice of­fi­cer for the New Cas­tle County Po­lice Depart­ment, be­gan work­ing in the state divi­sion of sub­stance abuse.

In 2016, she met NPD of­fi­cers when the depart­ment be­gan Ne­wark Hub, an ini­tia­tive that brings in sup­port agen­cies, such as pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers and so­cial work­ers, to team up for in­ter­ven­tion ef­forts aimed at homes where po­lice are of­ten called.

Ke­vis even­tu­ally be­gan work­ing with Con­nec­tions and when the or­ga­ni­za­tion be­gan launch­ing AN­GEL, she said one of her first thoughts was to reach out to NPD be­cause of the depart­ment’s in­no­va­tive and pro­gres­sive style.

“They’re a great agency, ver y in­no­va­tive,” she said. “They’re will­ing to try new ideas to get peo­ple help.”

She noted that sub­stance abuse is tricky, be­cause those with ad­dic­tion don’t want to go through the detox process, which has a painful with­drawal ex­pe­ri­ence. At Con­nec­tions, peo­ple strug­gling with sub­stance abuse are given methadone so they don’t have to go through with­drawal.

This part­ner­ship en­ables po­lice to have an “ac­cess point,” Ke­vis said. Of­fi­cers can ei­ther take the per­son to Con­nec­tions’ treat­ment cen­ter on Capi­tol Trail or call for some­one from the or­ga­ni­za­tion to pick up the per­son.

She gave the ex­am­ple of an of­fi­cer re­spond­ing to an in­ci­dent at 2 a.m.

“Maybe they want to get help, but where’s the cop go­ing to take them?” she said. “They don’t know. Giv­ing them this ac­cess point can get peo­ple into treat­ment all the time, if they’re ready at off hours. It’s not a 9-to-5 sched­ule when you hit rock bot­tom. This gives them the abil­ity to get peo­ple into treat­ment when they’re ready.”

Look­ing at Ne­wark specif­i­cally when it comes to the na­tional opi­oid epi­demic, Ke­vis said that the city isn’t in a bub­ble and re­flects the na­tion.

In­for­ma­tion com­piled from the Cen­ter for Drug and Health Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Delaware shows that New Cas­tle County has the high­est risk for over­dose in the state, with a death rate of 36.8 per 100,000, above the statewide death rate.

The UD data shows that the Col­lege Park neigh­bor­hood off Elk­ton Road has the high­est rate of over­dose deaths in city lim­its. In the greater Ne­wark area, the neigh­bor­hoods of Birch­wood Park/Fox Chase Park, Piermont Woods, Walther Road/Old Bal­ti­more Pike, Hill­side Heights/Old Mill Manor and Rob­scott Manor/Catalina Gar­dens also have high rates of over­dose deaths.

“Hope­fully they can get the treat­ment they need,” Ani­u­nas said. “When you look at it long term, once you get some­body off heroin, you’re go­ing to stop the al­ter­na­tive crimes that come with it, be­cause even­tu­ally peo­ple start shoplift­ing and they do what­ever they need to do to avoid get­ting sick from with­drawal. So if you can solve the root cause of the prob­lem, then you’re go­ing to have bet­ter out­comes on the other end, too.”

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