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Nashville, NC Police Department Implements Hope Initiative that Provides Rehabilitation Assistance to Opioid Users

Police departments across the nation have already taken a harm reduction approach to combating the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic - many police officers now carry the life-saving, opiate overdose reversal medicine Narcan ( naloxone) in their patrol vehicles. But as the fight against this cruel epidemic continues, some police departments have chosen to take it one step further by reaching out to those struggling with an opioid use disorder instead of unnecessarily shuttling them into the criminal justice system.

This groundbreaking approach, though it's unusual coming from a law enforcement agency, is actually in line with the direction policymakers, treatment specialists, and the general public should be moving in. In a 2014 WHO report, the organization offered good practice recommendations regarding the decriminalization of personal drug use, while over two-thirds of Americans believe that drug policy should focus on rehabilitation as opposed to prosecuting users.

On February 9th this year, the Nashville, NC Police Department became North Carolina's first enforcement agency to provide rehabilitation assistance to those struggling with an opioid use disorder with the launch of the Hope Initiative. This was modeled after Gloucester, MA Police Department Chief Leonard Campanello's trailblazing Angel Initiative that treats opioid users as patients rather than criminals. Nashville Police Chief Thomas Bashore told reporters that he has seen many tears cried on the couch in his office as users, most of whom have used prescription pain relievers or heroin for years, voluntarily exchange heroin for hope, without fear of facing criminal charges.

Since Project Hope was launched, 32 people with an opioid use disorder have walked into the Nashville police station to surrender their opiates and paraphernalia without getting arrested. Instead, they got an escort to walk them down to the Coastal Plain Hospital ( Nash General Hospital) in Rocky Mount, NC for detox, which lasts about 5 to 7 days, followed by referral to a long-term rehabilitation facility or enrolment in a comprehensive outpatient program. The hospital logged 2-digit figures for heroin-related overdoses until last year when the number of overdoses increased to 532.

29 people of those referred to treatment through the Hope Initiative, whose first client remains clean nearly 5 months later, struggled with an opioid use disorder, 2 were crack users and 1 abused alcohol. Only 3 of the 32 are known to have relapsed since their intake and 12 of them are now in long-term rehab programs ( 7 in North Carolina and 5 in Florida). According to City Manager Hank Raper, Nashville has spent less than $3,000 on these 32 patients combined; this cost includes application fees for long-term treatment ($250-$400), as well as airfare and bus tickets and is paid from Nashville's drug prevention grant. The city of Nashville does not cover the treatment programs, but Chief Bashore will try his best to help a client get a scholarship or an opportunity to pay for his treatment through models offering job training and allowing patients to work during their stay.

As the state continues to grapple with a dramatic rise in heroin-related overdose deaths, the city of Nashville proactively promotes this intervention program to area law enforcement agencies and assists in drafting models for community policing that can be extrapolated on a national level. After helping these 32 clients get the necessary treatment, the Nashville Police Department have condensed the intake process to around 30 minutes. Whenever a client walks into the police station to get help, Chief Bashore sends a text message to a team of 37 volunteers with the Hope Initiative, who become "sponsors" for each client.

Hank Raper also expressed his concerns about the severe shortage of long-term treatment facilities in North Carolina; in the eastern part, for instance, there's not a single treatment facility for those with an opioid use disorder. Raper also said that there is an unmet need for intervention programs in other eastern North Carolina areas as 29 of Hope Initiative's clients so far are from Nash County, Wilson, and Rocky Mount.

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