NPD partners with Connections to aid opioid epidemic
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.”