CHATHAM – The Chatham Cares 4U program held a meeting last month to review data collected and analyzed by Tomoko Udo, Ph.D., from the University of Albany’s School of Public Health. According to Ms. Udo, the data show that the program “has achieved its primary goal of providing direct and immediate access to substance abuse treatment.”
The substances that most of those who entered the program abused were opioids, either heroin or prescription medicines.
Ms. Udo presented her findings from July of 2016 to August of 2017, though she is continuing to study the data going forward. During the period of the study, 125 people came to the Chatham Police Station to ask for help ending their substance abuse. With the assistance of village police officers, 84% of those people entered a treatment facility.
“Eighty-four percent is pretty high,” Ms. Udo said.
About 20 people attended the October 27 public meeting at the Tracy Memorial. Since the study period the number of people coming to the Chatham Cares 4U (CC4U) has continued to grow and as of the meeting date the total number of people who have used CC4U since it began last year has risen to 158.
The program was started by Chatham’s part-time Police Chief Peter Volkmann. It encourages individuals dealing with addiction to come to the police station and have Chatham Police find them a treatment bed and transport them to the treatment facility if needed.
The program is based on the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I) program started Gloucester, MA.
Mr. Volkmann said at the meeting that when his department started the program, “We had no clue what was going to happen.” But he and his officers started successfully finding people treatment very quickly. “I realized our program needed to be researched,” he said. So he reached out the University of Albany, and Ms. Udo and a graduate student assistant started to study the program.
Ms. Udo found that two-thirds of the people who sought help from CC4U entered into treatment the same day. She also found that most had asked for help elsewhere before and that well over half had been denied treatment in the past.
She stressed that there is a survey on the Chatham Cares 4U Facebook page that participants can fill out to help with the study and to tell the researchers what has happened to them since treatment. She said that finding people after treatment has been difficult and she urged audience members to share information about the survey if they have contact with people who have used CC4U.
Ms. Udo said that nationally only about 5% of people with substance abuse disorder feel they need treatment and fewer than 2% have tried to find help. She said CC4U address three of the “top five reasons given for not getting treatment”: lack of healthcare; not knowing of where to go for treatment; and lack of transportation. The other two reasons are “not ready to stop” and “negative effect on job.”
CC4U participants can receive assistance obtaining health insurance, mostly Medicaid, and in obtaining an insurer’s prior authorization. There is also help locating a bed at a treatment facility, which Ms. Udo said is most often a detoxification center.
The program also provides transportation to a treatment facility in a police vehicle, which is needed about 70% of the cases. Chief Volkmann said friends or family handle the others.
Ms. Udo found that 13% of the participants were uninsured and 54.8% were on Medicaid; 19% had never sought treatment before.
She also found that about 62% reported no past drug-related arrest history. And she said that most people seeking treatment through CC4U were in the 26-to-35-year-old age range, with about 37% of them were female, which is higher than the state average of 27% of woman seeking treatment.
“You are attracting the right people,” she said. Nationally the opioid addiction risk is highest between the ages 18 and 35.
Most people using the program are from Columbia County, with about 33% from neighboring counties, mostly Albany, Greene and Rensselaer.
Ms. Udo said she is looking for funding to continue the research, and there is more learn to from the data, like how a program that does not involve arrests works. She also said she will look at following up with CC4U participants to see whether outcomes are better than substance users who had different encounters with police.
Audience members were encouraged to ask questions, and several questions were for Chief Volkmann, asking how he has been so successful finding treatment beds.
“We call the duty nurse on the floor” of treatment centers, he said. “It’s phone calls for hours.”
He said he’d hoped that the CC4U program would have “morphed into Columbia Cares 4U.” Though there are other programs like this in the state, there are none in the county. He said that having volunteers from Columbia Pathways for Recovery (CPR) staff the phone help line is has reduced some of the time demands on his force.
“You cannot expect our part-time police force to continue this,” he said, “We’ll collapse.”
One audience member criticized the program’s policy of saying that Chatham police will not arrest people looking for help.
“If I didn’t say that, people wouldn’t come in,” Chief Volkmann said.
Another audience member asked what happens to people after the program. “We’re like an ambulance service,” the chief said; his police officers get people to treatment. Ms. Udo said that some people come to the program more than once.
Audience members also mentioned President Trump’s having declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency. Ms. Udo said it was not clear what that would mean, adding, “We don’t know what they are going to do yet.”
Chief Volkmann said he had a lot of “fear” when he started this program and now that it’s successful his fear is about being able to meet demand. He said sometimes the police don’t have anyone ask for help for 10 days and then several people will come in at once. “We have gotten three on one day,” he said.
The CC4U Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/chathamcares4u. The CPR help line is at 877-HOPE-365 (877-467-3365).
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email email@example.com