Between 2011 and 2014 in Maine, heroin-related deaths increased by 714%, overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased by 378%, and in 2015, heroin and opiate addiction are currently found to motivate between 80-85% of all the property crimes we experience. These staggering statistics have continued to climb, while awareness of resources has continued at a steady low, and at the same time, resources themselves have been on the decline due to cuts in funding. Maine’s addiction problem has seemed to blow up overwhelmingly fast while being handled solely through criminalizing substance abuse, which has been the primary approach of the war on drugs. The Scarborough Police Department recognizes this – and in the beginning of October, they made a truly necessary and radical change to confront this persistent problem.
On October 1st, 2015, the Scarborough, Maine Police Department implemented an initiative called Operation Hope – similar to the Gloucester, MA Police Department’s “angel program,” effective June 2015 – to help those suffering from addiction to find resources for treatment, an alternative to continuing on a path that would otherwise lead them into the criminal justice system… or worse.
The initiative is aimed at targeting addiction rather than addicted people. It involves several types of work, with the ultimate goal being to lower the number of crimes, medical emergencies, and deaths relating to drug abuse. Tackling this problem from multiple angles at once will certainly be more effective than simply incarcerating drug users – and progress has already been made, with 26 people seeking help being placed in treatment facilities in a short frame of 27 days, and with 18 of them coming in uninsured.
First and foremost, the program offers the opportunity for drug users to bring drugs and paraphernalia to the Scarborough police station directly, without fear of legal repercussions. In turn, as long as they’re found eligible, the person is assigned an Operation Hope “Angel” – a volunteer who has likely had personal experience with addiction – who will help them to navigate the world of recovery, including helping the person find placement in a treatment facility. After completing treatment, an individual is offered follow-up and general support services through Portland Recovery Community Center. If the individual is found ineligible, they will still be offered other support services.
Among the many components of Operation Hope, one involves law enforcement training – provided by Portland Recovery Community Center – to help police officers understand and learn about effective ways to approach addiction-related issues, and to see them from the perspective of people struggling with addiction. The goal is to re-humanize individuals suffering from addiction through empathy and understanding. Police officers will be faster to help a person struggling with addiction than an “addict” (notice this disregards their humanity), and this training will help some to move past a narrow-minded view of addiction and people suffering from it, towards something more warm, helpful and truly life-changing.
Along with education provided to law enforcement officials, the Scarborough Police Department also provides education to the general public through outreach efforts. They maintain a current Facebook page with information about their Operation Hope services and relevant news regarding the program, including successful placements into rehabilitation facilities. This creates a great connection between the general public and the new Operation Hope resource through the most popular and widely used social media outlet. Additionally, if a police officer responds to a call where there is known or suspected drug abuse, the officer will provide the individual(s) involved with an Operation Hope flyer, while offering to provide assistance in finding help. This will hopefully bring resources directly to people who, for a multitude of possible reasons – for instance, for fear of legal repercussions – aren’t willing or able to reach out for help alone, as well as to those who are in danger of getting into legal trouble. This will hopefully change the appearance of police from people who want to arrest drug users, to people who genuinely want to assist them in finding help and recovering.
This huge attitude shift toward drug abuse and addiction will undoubtedly help tons of people to reach out from the illegal darkness of their disease, allowing them to find resources available to help them get clean and start a new, fresh life without drugs.
Liberty Bay Recovery Center is proud to be partnered with Operation Hope, and to have placed 7 out of 26 people seeking help into our addiction recovery program.
We are honored to contribute to such an amazing initiative and are blessed to be able to provide an opportunity for recovery, through our quality 90-day program, to individuals seeking treatment for their addiction – and to help them create a new, sober life for themselves that, upon entering, they often can’t even imagine.