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It may take a village to stem addiction

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CHATHAM–Village Police Chief Peter Volkmann announced last week that his department has partnered with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I) to launch the department’s own addiction recovery initiative called the Chatham Cares 4 U (CC4U) outreach program.

The CC4U program is modeled after the Gloucester, MA, ANGEL Initiative, which encourages residents of the community who want to overcome their drug addiction to walk into the police station, turn over their drugs and paraphernalia and ask for help.

A statement released to the press from the Village of Chatham Police Department says of those who seek help, “They will not be charged but instead, will be placed into a drug treatment program regardless of financial means or insurance coverage.” Participants will also be assigned to a volunteer who will help guide and support them while in recovery.

In the release Chief Volkmann says, “Drug addiction is a disease, and those who are suffering need help. The stigma associated with heroin and opiate addiction is over. Police officers are here to help you, not judge you.”

But the chief’s statement also says, “This policy in no way diminishes the Police Department’s role in pursuing the arrest and conviction of those who sell narcotics. Chatham police, using their own resources and those made available by other police agencies, will work to fight drug dealers.”

Chatham Village Mayor Tom Curran said in an email this week to The Columbia Paper in response to questions about the program, that through the Gloucester Initiative, the Chatham village police department is connected to “about 100 beds in the region for rehab services.”

Mayor Curran also wrote that the Chatham Village Police will transport persons needing rehab, along with a trained CC4U volunteer and a family member or loved one, to a rehab facility. The chief has said that the available beds for the program are in Massachusetts.

“If you change your mind on the trip to rehab, we bring you back home. No consequences. No arrests. This is to help people suffering from addiction, not to punish,” the mayor wrote.

According to Chief Volkmann this is the first program of its kind in the county.

Mr. Curran said that there are about 20 police departments across New York state now taking up the Gloucester model. He said local officials learned of the program on Facebook.

The Village of Chatham is one of the few municipalities in Columbia County with its own police department, and village department is a part-time force. The county Sheriff’s Office and the State Police also patrol the village.

P.A.A.R.I., the Gloucester program, was launched to support police departments around the nation as they work to help those suffering from the disease of addiction. According to the release, the United States has a nationwide heroin and opioid epidemic, with more people now dying from overdoses than from car accidents in this country. P.A.A.R.I. was created by Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello and John Rosenthal to bridge the gap between police departments and those struggling with addiction.

“CC4U program is in response to the growing heroin usage in our region,” Mayor Curran said in his email, adding, “since this kind of initiative is new, Chatham is trying it on a small scale.”

The press release announcing the program stresses that if anyone sees a person believed to be overdosing on heroin or other drugs–usually prescription opioid painkillers, “do not waste time trying to hide evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia.” Instead, the release says, call 911 immediately. Chatham Police carry Narcan (naloxone hydrochloride), a drug used to counteract an opioid overdose. The release points out that under the Good Samaritan Law the person overdosing and those attending that person will not be charged with a drug offense.

In addition to heroin, prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine can lead to addiction and to fatal overdoses.

Chief Volkmann says in an outline of the CC4U program that his department is working to remove the stigma associated with drug addiction “turning the conversation toward the disease of addiction rather than the crime of addition.” His release does not mention cost of the program, but says, “We work directly with treatment centers to secure scholarships and fully-funded in-patient programs for addicts while working with police departments, pharmacies and families to put nasal Narcan into as many hands as possible.”

There are exceptions for people being helped by the CC4U program, according to the release. One is that participants must be 18 years or older. No one with outstanding warrants can apply. And if the police officer, chief of police or designee has a reasonable belief that the volunteer could be harmed by the participant, they will not take them to rehab. But the release says that despite these exceptions, a volunteer will be available to assist the participant.

Attempts to reach Chief Volkmann for additional comment this week were not returned by press deadline.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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