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Consider paradigm shift in interactions of police with heroin, opioid addicts

Monday, November 9, 2015

As the pernicious opioid epidemic ravaging the Mahoning Valley and the United States shows no signs of slowing anytime soon, new views and creative solutions must be embraced.

A program launched earlier this year by a small-town Massachusetts police department offers encouraging guidance on both fronts. First, it rightly views drug addiction as a disease – not a crime. Second, it seeks to amass piles of admission slips to respected, effective treatment centers for addicts – not reams of arrest warrants to clog up the criminal justice system while doing little to cure the disease.

As Vindicator staff writer Jordyn Grzelewski detailed in an extensive Page 1 report in Sunday’s editions, those outside-the-box philosophies represent the innermost workings of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.

The multipronged PAARI program commits partnering police departments across the country to these strategies:

Encouraging opioid drug users to seek recovery and and connecting them with treatment programs.

Helping to distribute life-saving opioid-blocking drugs to treat overdoses.

Providing resources to other police departments and communities that want to do more to fight the opioid epidemic.

PAARI’s successes in reducing overdose deaths and in lessening crime associated with feeding the fix already are well documented. In Gloucester, Mass., where the program was launched, overdose deaths have plummeted, and property crime is down nearly one-fourth since the program started.

Its positive impact also has reached the Mahoning Valley. A Youngstown-area man who had battled the demons of painkiller and heroin abuse for years recently received a $50,000 grant from PAARI for a 90-day state-of-the-art treatment and recovery program in California. His mother believes that intervention may very well save his life.

That success story has potential to be duplicated many times over in the Mahoning Valley, which lies at the epicenter of the nationwide opioid and heroin scourge. And a scourge it truly continues to be.

More Valley and Ohio residents died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2014 than in any other year in history recorded by the Ohio Department of Health. Overdose deaths now surpass vehicle accidents as the No. 1 cause of all accidental deaths in the U.S.


Such data reinforce the necessity to fight harder to rein in the insipid contagion. To be sure, public and private agencies and institutions across the Valley have not sat idly by in the face of the worsening epidemic. Success has been achieved in expanding access to Narcan, a successful heroin antidote, in increasing funding for expansion of treatment facilities and in launching successful drug-court programs that substitute productive time in recovery for wasted time in jail cells.

Indeed, the PAARI program rises as a logical and promising progression of such drug courts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties by offering earlier intervention and earlier life-saving treatments. After all, for the hard-core opioid addict, days, hours and even minutes can mean the difference between life and death.

That’s one major reason why law- enforcement agencies in our region and state should enthusiastically and expeditiously accept the gracious invitation to ally themselves with PAARI.

“We are very actively trying to get Youngstown and other places in Ohio to partner with us,” said Gloucester police spokesman John Guilfoil.

The local mother of the son whose life may have been saved by PAARI and Nicole Walmsley, a former heroin addict redeemed by the Mahoning County Drug Court program, are leading the charge for local PAARI partnerships and for a paradigm shift in law enforcement’s interactions with addicts.

Those appeals will be among many awareness themes at Saturday’s Walk Against Heroin at 1 p.m. in downtown Niles. A robust turnout at the event will help spread the word that our community can no longer simply try to arrest its way out of the opioid epidemic and that new and creative tactics must gain serious traction. A Mahoning Valley partnership with PAARI stands as one viable and promising tactic to reduce the skyrocketing and anguishing toll of devastation wrought by opioid abuse.