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Somerset drug treatment program to connect addicts, specialists

Renatta Signorini
| Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 4:24 p.m.
This file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone.
Patrick Sison/AP
This file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone.

Flagging down a Somerset police officer was all it took Saturday to get a woman into drug treatment.

An initiative implemented this month in the borough will focus on getting addicts the proper help they need in Somerset County.

“It's a very easy program to follow,” said Somerset Police Officer Justin Evans who was on routine patrol Saturday when the request woman sought help.

The new program is a partnership between borough police, the county's district attorney and the state attorney general. Days after it was announced last week, police there had their first request — a woman whose daughter was willing to get into recovery from a heroin addiction. The woman flagged down police and they immediately got in touch with a certified recovery specialist in Somerset County, according to Police Chief Randy Cox.

The process took about an hour and the person went to a detoxification facility, he said.

State officials hope to replicate it elsewhere around the state.

Under the program, anyone seeking treatment can go to their local police station or talk to an officer who will connect them with an open bed, according to a news release from Attorney General Josh Shapiro. So far, only Somerset Borough is taking part in the program, state officials said.

The officer can contact a certified recovery specialist who will then perform an intake interview and coordinate treatment.

“Law enforcement officers come into contact with people suffering from addiction every day,” Shapiro said in a news release. “If an individual is seeking help, we have a moral obligation to help them access it.”

Connecting people with help isn't anything new for Cox's officers — they do it for those who need mental health treatment.

They're “simply asking law enforcement to treat the addicted person ... the same way that we've treated the mentally ill for decades,” Cox said. “It's not a difficult concept, it's just a different population.”

Drug users seeking treatment will not be arrested under the program. For example, police confiscated packets of heroin and other drug paraphernalia from the woman who sought treatment Saturday. She was not charged with a crime.

However, borough police will continue to target dealers, Cox said.

“We'll extend that to (users), but if we're making a buy-bust ... we're still going to be arresting people,” he said.

Cox hopes moving away from prosecuting minor drug-related crimes against users who need help will save money and time.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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