News

Police offer treatment to those who ask for help in Northampton County

Written by Pamela Lehman/The Morning Call | Jul 10, 2018 7:00 AM
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Newsrooms across the commonwealth have spent years documenting the opioid crisis in their own communities. But now, in the special project State of Emergency: Searching for Solutions to Pennsylvania's Opioids Crisis, we are marshalling resources to spotlight what Pennsylvanians are doing to try to reverse the soaring number of overdose deaths.

WITF is releasing more than 60 stories, videos and photos throughout July. This week, you will find stories about police intervention, courts and treatment.

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A pamphlet given out by Bethlehem police about the BPAIR program that offers those suffering a drug addiction the chance to get immediate treatment. (Rick Kintzel / The Morning Call)

 

(Bethlehem) -- At several police stations in eastern Pennsylvania, opioid addicts can turn themselves in and not be put in handcuffs, but instead get help with drug treatment.

Officials in Bethlehem, the state's seventh-largest city, and Bangor, a borough of about 5,200 in rural Northampton County, both wanted to fight back at the opioid crisis hitting their communities.

In November, the two started the Bethlehem/Bangor Police Assist in Recovery program -- known as BPAIR -- with the goal of keeping those with an opioid addiction out of jail and on the road to recovery.

In Bethlehem, handful of people have taken advantage of the program, said police Chief Mark DiLuzio.

"That's not a huge amount, but even if we help one person I consider it a success," he said. "I hope they all made it through to recovery."

A third police department that serves a largely suburban area, Colonial Regional, also recently joined the program. The program is funded by a year-long $103,000 grant given to the Northampton County Opioid Task Force.

"The program is unique in that it brings law enforcement, drug and alcohol treatment providers and individuals seeking treatment together in an effort to reduce heroin and opioid use," said Colonial Regional police Chief Roy Seiple.

The Lehigh Valley has been hit hard with overdose deaths. Last year, 306 people died in Lehigh and Northampton counties, according to annual coroners' reports, an increase of 81 percent over 2016.

Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m weekdays, anyone struggling with opioid addiction can come into the Bethlehem, Bangor or Colonial Regional police station and ask for help. A professional will conduct an assessment on site and connect the person with a treatment facility.

Police will seize any drugs or paraphernalia the person may have, but will not make an arrest -- unless there is an active warrant for the person's arrest.

DiLuzio said the simplicity of the program is its cost-effectiveness because it uses existing resources to combat the opioid scourge.

"We've had people walk in and say, 'I need help,' and that's something all departments should want to do," DiLuzio said. "There's no doubt that we can't arrest our way out of this problem.

He also said educating officers is another important part of the process, including classes on using narcan to reverse an opioid overdose and learning about the nature of drug addiction.

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Scott Felchock, the police chief in Bangor, Pa., helped start a program in the Lehigh Valley that offers amnesty from criminal charges if addicts surrender their drugs and agree to drug treatment. (The Morning Call)

Bangor police Chief Scott Felchock said his department hasn't had anyone ask to participate in the program yet, but views it as critical in developing strong ties between the officers and a small community that has not been spared from the opioid crisis. Officers recently arrested several people on charges of dealing fentanyl, a powerful opioid about 50 times stronger than morphine.

"We want people to know that law enforcement are not scrutinizing or judging their addiction," Felchock said.

Some people struggling with addiction may take several tries at sobriety before they are ready to ask for help, Felchock said.

"I think that it's important that they know that if they come to our department and ask for help, they're going to get it," he said. "Our goal is not to arrest them, but to help."

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