ELIZABETHTOWN — The monthly meeting of the Bladen County Opioid Task Force took a brief hiatus from its usual group discussions and, instead, heard an in-depth explanation about the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition on Tuesday.
That discussion was kicked off by Capt. Lars Paul with the Fayetteville Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, who spoke to the group of about 39 on how the Fayetteville officers have adopted an arrest diversion program fashioned after one in Seattle, Wash.
Known as the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, the effort is a collaboration between police, prosecutors, civil rights advocates, public defenders, political leaders, mental health and drug treatment providers, housing and other service providers, business and neighborhood leaders.
“We have to attack this opioid crisis from a lot of different angles,” Paul said.
The LEAD program makes every attempt to avoid arresting those using opioids and, instead, steer them toward services to help them get past their addictions.
“It was tough for some officers to sign on with, especially the old-school cops and some of the new ones,” Paul said. “But we’re seeing the efforts work.”
He added that, in Fayetteville, there are 22 individuals in the LEAD program and there has been about an 80-percent reduction in crime by those individuals.
“Property crime has really decreased since we started this program,” Paul said.
He also said the Fayetteville Police Department is responsible for 158 reversals of opioid overdoses through the use of Narcan.
A bulk of Tuesday’s discussion included a lengthy PowerPoint presentation by Colin Miller, overdose prevention coordinator with the state’s Harm Reduction Coalition.
Miller said the group’s motto is “Meeting people who abuse drugs where they are at,” and the focus is to find common-sense avenues of help to get addicts to take control of their lives.
“We work with more than just drug addictions, including with mental health issues,” he added.
Miller also said the group takes a different approach to addictions.
“We know people are going to use drugs, so we try to find the safest way for them to do that — things like syringe exchanges — while offering ways for them to reduce their use,” Miller said. “A single HepC treatment costs $80,000 to $100,000, so if that can be eliminated, we see it as a success.”
According to sources, the state of North Carolina has seen a 440-percent rise in deaths since 1999 in opioid overdoses.
“It’s hard to get a true picture of how big this crisis really is because there are so many agencies and programs that are using different systems,” Miller said. “But we are seeing that forced treatments are not successful, so we are advocating away from that.
“People will go along with it as long as there is a carrot being dangled (like reduced or no jail time), but once that carrot is gone, they go right back to using,” he added.
If there was a sobering fact given Tuesday, it was this: Drug deaths have surpassed gun and vehicle deaths … combined.
Richard Allen, a narcotics deputy with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, brought that issue closer to home.
“(Bladen County) EMS had an overdose reversal with Naloxone on Monday, but the individual overdosed again on Tuesday and died,” he told the group.
The next meeting of the Opioid Task Force will be an evening gathering in May, date and time to be determined.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or email@example.com.