Eleven people have approached Anaheim police officers since January asking for help with their addiction to drugs.
The city’s Drug Free Anaheim initiative offers addicts an alternative to criminal prosecution and a path to sobriety. As long as a person is not under the influence at the moment or wanted for a crime, they can walk into an Anaheim Police Department station or contact a police officer for help without worrying about facing punishment.
Officer Lucy Sandoval said officers are also using the program as a resource out in the field.
On a recent call, she encountered a person living in a car. “The person was obviously struggling with heroin addiction. There were scabs around the body.”
She offered the drug program’s help.
“The person broke down crying, admitting it was a problem,” she said. “You can sense a sincere genuine desire to get help.”
Anaheim partnered with the nonprofit Social Model Recovery Systems to connect people with treatment. The city’s paying $83,800 a year for the assistance – the money comes from the city’s narcotics asset forfeiture funds.
“It’s been a mix,” Colin Womer, project coordinator for Social Model Recovery Systems, said of the people who’ve enrolled. “Most of these people who have come in for help have an opiate or heroin addiction.”
Some have problems with alcohol.
“Some have come right off the street with zero resources,” he said. “They vary in age from an adolescent female to very successful people who were taken down due to addiction or have had an addiction for a long time.”
Womer said the number of enrolled should be higher, but he thinks there is still some apprehension approaching police for help.
“This is a helping hand,” he said. “This is not police entrapment that the general public might fear it is.”
Inspired by the Angel Program in Gloucester, Mass., Drug Free Anaheim was championed by Mayor Tom Tait.
The Massachusetts fishing town had been hit hard by opioid abuse, but since the start of its program in 2015, more than 400 people have been placed in treatment centers, according to news reports. Drug crimes are down 27 percent in the community.
Police agencies across the nation have adopted similar programs. Anaheim is the first in Orange County.
Fatal drug overdoses in the county rose to 400 in 2015, and deaths caused by heroin usage have increased by 114 percent since 2012, according to the coroner’s office.
“This is a crisis,” said Mike Schaub, senior director of community relations at Social Model Recovery Systems. “Addiction is a problem.”
To find people who turn to the Police Department for help, Wolmer turns to county programs, other nonprofits and partner agencies to recommend treatment options such as detox, outpatient or residential.
But treatment may not be cheap. Some residential treatment centers can cost $160 to $275 a day, Schaub said, adding most people should be treated for at least 30 days.