This Police Force Is Fighting Opioid Addiction With Solidarity

In a small town in North Carolina, a police chief decided to help instead of prosecute drug addicts and the results couldn't have been better.

Man holds drug paraphernalia.

The opioid epidemic has become a nightmare in many states across the country. In North Carolina, a police chief is doing something completely new in order to fight this trend.

Between 2010 and 2016, North Carolina saw a 340 percent increase in opioid-related deaths. The dramatic rise became such a huge concern that Nashville's town manager, Hank Raper, and Police Chief Thomas Bashore decided to launch a program called HOPE to help save the lives of addicts in the small eastern North Carolina town, CNN reports.

With the HOPE initiative, the two men started a small revolution in Nashville, allowing addicts to get help from the police without having to fear being arrested. This isn't the first time this type of program has been tried as the two men modeled HOPE after “Angel,” a similar assistance program from Gloucester, Massachusetts.

“There's no clear characteristic of what a heroin or opioid addiction looks like. It's not a white problem, it's not a black problem, it's not a Hispanic problem, middle class, working class, upper class. It affects all peoples of all walks of life,” Raper said.

In order to make sure this problem is resolved in a peaceful and humane way, the program seeks to let addicts know they can trust the police department regardless of the circumstances.

“They walk into the front door, if they have drugs or paraphernalia on them at any time, they can turn it in to us at that time, and have no charges filed. And we facilitate them into recovery,” Bashore told reporters.

Ever since the beginning of the initiative in early February 2016, town officials have seen addicts turn in a great amount of paraphernalia, cookers, syringes, pipes, and even injection “rigs.” They have also seen individuals who were on their way to recovery turn in full bags of heroin so they wouldn't be around the drug when they returned.

Despite having allowed addicts to trust the police that they will not go after them if they are willing to turn things around, possession of heroin in North Carolina is a felony. Being found with paraphernalia on your person is considered a misdemeanor. So in order to have this program launched, Raper and Bashore met with the county's district attorney beforehand. Thankfully, he supported the initiative.

So far, at least 172 men and women approached Nashville's police after help thanks to HOPE. Bashore himself has driven many of them to a detox facility, making good on his promise he would only show solidarity to addicts.

Now, CNN reports, several rehabilitation facilities across the state alert him when they have space available so he is able to get addicts a safe place where they will get the help they deserve.

“My cellphone, it rings all the time. Each participant who comes through the program and all their family members have it. So, when they need something, they reach out,” he said.

Instead of looking at addiction as a crime, Bashore and Raper decided to look at it as what it truly is, a disease. And what they found out is that showing addicts support isn't just good for the addict, it's also good for the community.

Thanks to HOPE, crime also dropped 40 percent across Nashville, a rate Bashore is proud of.

“We've had a pretty significant drop in our crimes that are associated with substance-abuse disorder. Things like shoplifting and larcenies and breaking into cars,” he explained.

As you can see, embracing a change in approach to the war on drugs helps both the addict and the communities they are part of. Thankfully, this town's decision to face addiction as a disease and not a crime will help others to see the value in this type action and more will follow suit.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

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