Law enforcement officials in Delaware County, with the assistance of state prosecutors, have a new, holistic option when they encounter someone experiencing addiction, officials said Tuesday.
The county has become the sixth in Pennsylvania to join the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative being spearheaded by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Under the program, officers at local police departments are trained to act as intermediaries with treatment programs, and can expedite getting someone into treatment who otherwise may find the process difficult.
It also gives officers discretion when making low-level drug arrests, according to District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer. If individuals who are arrested make clear that they want to enter treatment, they can work with the county’s drug court to enter a rehabilitative program.
“Sometimes people who are suffering from addiction don’t know where to turn, but they know they can trust their local police department,” Shapiro said Tuesday at a news conference in Upper Darby. “We’re telling them ‘turn to us.’”
Almost 1,000 people have fatally overdosed in Delaware County in the last five years, Shapiro said. The initiative, he said, is part of a drastic reimagining of how law enforcement is reacting to a spike in opioid use, instead of relying solely on arrest and incarceration.
The initiative was started in 2018 in Somerset County, near Pittsburgh. It has expanded throughout the state since, and Shapiro has said dozens of residents have taken advantage of it.
A nearly identical program was started in 2017 in Bensalem. The Bucks Police Assisting in Recovery program trains officers in substance-abuse disorders, and has them serve as “ambassadors” to treatment programs. After initial success with the program in Bensalem, county officials expanded it to 12 departments last year, and have plans to establish it across the entire county in the coming months.
The Bucks program is operated by the county’s Drug and Alcohol Commission and is funded by state grant money. Like the one Shapiro unveiled Tuesday, the program trains officers and volunteer “navigators” in substance-abuse disorders, and pays for intake at treatment facilities.
“By getting law enforcement involved in the initial steps,” Shapiro said, “we can minimize the stigma of raising your hand and saying ‘I need help.’”