by Patrice Johnson
Tuesday, August 8, Chief of Police Johnnie Torres, Jr. signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Michigan State Police (MSP), agreeing that the Stockbridge Village Police Department will follow Angel Program protocols. According to its brochure, the Angel Program “allows an individual struggling with drug addiction to walk into a Michigan State Police post during regular business hours and ask for assistance.” Now, the same opportunity applies to Stockbridge Village Police offices as well.
Through the Angel Program, drug addicts who seek help will be placed in a recovery program rather than face arrest and jail time. “Those afflicted with heroin and opioid addictions have to initiate,” Torres points out. “They have to come in or contact us.” The program’s protections do not extend to a person during a traffic stop or police search. Neither does the Angel Program wipe away outstanding warrants. Wanted felons need not apply, but minor infractions may be set aside. Torres emphasized that laws are being created to protect those who call for help and reach out to the police.
Why the new approach? As the front line in the war against drugs, police forces around the nation are seeking to curb increasing demand, not just block supply. Statistics show the opioid crisis has resulted in more than 300,000 deadly opioid overdoses since 1999—roughly the population of Cincinnati. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about half of those deaths stemmed from prescription opioids.
“A large percentage of folks who are addicted to opioids came by them legally.” Torres noted that a flood of legally prescribed opioids is emanating from southeast Michigan. “It’s become a public health crisis,” he said and added, “The opioid problem is here like in any community in the country.”
Statistics back him up. The CDC put out 2012 data that found there were more prescribed bottles of painkillers in some states than there were people. Unfortunately, Michigan is one of those states with 96 to 143 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people, or about 1 : 1. Torres reported that, as of July 7, 2017, 100 confirmed overdoses occurred in the Tri-County area of Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties.
A CDC study found that the risk of addiction dramatically increases the longer one uses opioids. Also, the opioid’s painkilling effects lessen over time, prompting the user to take larger doses. “I’ve watched one woman in this community waste away before my eyes because of her pain medication,” Torres said, frustration evident in his voice. “She’s a shell of what she used to be.”
Common opioids include Methadone, Oxycodone/OxyContin and hydrocodone. When doctors or pharmacies cut patients off, they sometimes turn to less expensive, loose quality heroin. For this reason, according to researchers at Columbia University, heroin use—once almost exclusive to urban areas—is spreading to small towns and suburbs. Its tentacles now reach “all measures for age, race, gender, education, income and marital status—especially among white, uneducated men.”
And the problem gets worse. The National Institute of Drug Abuse wrote:
In addition, the abuse of an opioid like heroin, which is typically injected intravenously, is also linked to the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis (especially Hepatitis C), sexually-transmitted infections, and other blood-borne diseases, mostly through the sharing of contaminated drug paraphernalia but also through the risky sexual behavior that drug abuse may engender.
“If accepted into the MSP Angel Program,” the brochure reads, “the individual will be guided through a professional substance abuse assessment and intake process to ensure proper treatment placement. An Angel volunteer, who is a member of the local community, will be present to support the individual during the process, and to provide transportation to the identified treatment facility.”
Opiate overdose symptoms include altered consciousness, pinpoint pupils, and respiratory depression. This respiratory depression may lead to hypoxia and irreversible cell death. It can be fatal if urgent treatment is not administered.
Thankfully, each village patrol car is now equipped with two doses of Naloxone, an opiate antagonist that can reverse opiate overdose and improve respiratory function.
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