Addicts can find ‘Angel’ at Dover Police

DOVER — With heroin seizures up by 419 percent between 2014 and 2015, Dover Police Department now aims to utilize a new strategy in the ongoing war against illegal drugs.

It officially launched its ANGEL Program on Thursday, which encourages people looking to overcome their addiction to walk into the police station, turn over their drugs and paraphernalia and ask for help.

The process will not result in criminal charges or penalties. Instead, they will be assigned a volunteer “angel” who is trained to provide encouragement and advice in helping them on their road to recovery.

They will then be placed into a drug treatment program, such as Connections, which has outpatient clinics in Dover, Smyrna and Harrington, regardless of their financial means or insurance coverage.

The ANGEL Program is modeled after the Gloucester, Massachusetts, ANGEL Initiative. Gloucester’s police department helped more than 450 people receive treatment since it started its program on June 1, 2015.

Cathy McKay, CEO of Connections Community Support Programs, lauded Dover’s new approach to dealing with drug addiction.

“When someone is ready to get help it needs to be accessible right away. That hasn’t always been true,” Ms. McKay said. “For years we had a war on drugs which just criminalized drug users ending up with prison sentences and other things for possessing small amounts of drugs and without getting the help that they need.”

The Dover Police Department became the first in Delaware to partner with The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, marking the program’s expansion into 25 states nationwide.

“It is a privilege to collaborate with such a groundbreaking organization,” Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat said. “P.A.A.R.I. erases the stigma associated with the disease of addiction and provides police departments with a greater variety or resources to help our communities.”

Chief Bernat said if an individual walked into the police station for the ANGEL Program and they had warrants out for their arrest that they would still have to face those charges first as a part of police policy. Once those issues were dealt with, the individuals can participate in the program.

Mayor Robin Christiansen hopes the program will help put a dent in drug dealers’ supplies throughout the city.

Police made 345 seizures of heroin in 2014 and 1,789 in 2015.

“We must send a clear message to them — the citizens of Dover do not need, nor do we want, the influence of available drugs in our city,” Mayor Christiansen said. “Our citizens need help to help them rid themselves of this terrible addiction.”

Last year a total of 228 people died from overdoses in Delaware, including 125 from heroin overdoses.

Forty two were linked to the potent painkiller fentanyl, which is rarely used without heroin. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent that heroin.

A total of 44 overdose deaths involving fentanyl took place between Jan. 22 and May 17 this year, with five in Kent County.

“We continue to see the number of lives lost due to overdose,” said Rita Landgraf, secretary for the Delaware Division of Health and Social Services. “We continue to see the amount of drugs that are landing in our precious state that are furthering how dangerous this really is.

“When somebody is ready to engage, we need to be ready to introduce them to treatment. It’s a magical moment and we can’t afford to allow people to wait because that’s when you lose people — in that waiting game.”

Dover police officers who find individuals with small amounts of heroin and opiates on the streets also will be able to engage with them and introduce them to the program, depending on the situation.

For his officers, Chief Bernat said it’s all about being compassionate to those who show the courage and desire to seek help.

Chief Bernat said information and links to the ANGEL Program will be on the police department’s website and Facebook page. The department is also seeking grant funds to help advertise the program throughout the city.

Ms. McKay sees the program as a win-win situation for the police and those suffering from drug addiction.

“I think that we really are so fortunate that we have the city of Dover Mayor Christiansen, Chief Bernat and all the members of the Dover [police department] who have taken the lead to recognize that people with addictions need treatment and not criminal justice intervention and the help to find the care that they need,” she said.

“Our employees throughout Kent County are ready to work with the Dover police to offer city residents a chance to transition from a life of addiction, which is a harsher prison sentence than any court can hand out, to the freedom of recovery.”

 

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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