Pa. program makes cops 'ambassadors,' connects drug users with treatment

The county received a $300,000 grant to expand its Bucks Police Assisting in Recovery program


Vinny Vella
The Philadelphia Inquirer

BUCKS COUNTY, Pa. — If a Bucks County resident is struggling with drug addiction and looking for immediate help in getting treatment, officials are now directing them to a new, unlikely ally: local police departments.

Started three years ago in Bensalem, the Bucks Police Assisting in Recovery program trains officers in substance-abuse disorders, and has them serve as “ambassadors” to treatment programs, as Fred Harran, Bensalem’s public safety director, put it.

Officials announced Wednesday that the program has expanded to 12 departments and is slated to encompass the entire county in a year.

“We are not the experts in all fields, we are not the experts in drug issues, we are not the experts in mental illness. But we are the ambassadors,” Harran said. “We will ambassador to the public to get you to the experts, to get you the help you need, no questions asked.”

The county’s Drug and Alcohol Commission received a $300,000 grant from the state earlier this year to expand the program, according to Diane Rosati, the commission’s executive director. That funding goes toward training the officers, as well as volunteer “navigators” who will assist them. It also helps pay for the intake at drug and alcohol treatment centers, and for the treatment itself if a person doesn’t have health insurance.

Currently, the program is available in all parts of the county, from Quakertown to Lower Southampton. Residents interested in getting treatment can call or go to a participating police station and ask for help, and will receive an immediate intake assessment, according to Rosati.

During its pilot run in Bensalem, the program served about 80 residents. It is designed, according to Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, to increase “points of access” for people who are seeking help immediately, with the intention of limiting barriers that might discourage them from getting that treatment.

“It has nothing to do with who you are, whether you’re innocent or guilty,” Weintraub said. “It calls for the ultimate trust: A person who may have drug paraphernalia on them has to surrender themselves to the police and say, ‘I need help.’

“And if they’re willing to do that,” he added, “these police officers will commit themselves to their safety.”

The county debuted a similar program in 2018 through the municipal court system that targets drug users after their arrests.

The District Court Diversionary Program engages first-time offenders shortly after their arraignments and puts them into treatment immediately. If they complete the program, the charges are dropped.

©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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