AUGUSTA – Help is coming to the streets of Augusta for drug addicts and ready to seek help, as part of efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic and prevent it from spreading further dead than she has already done.
A new publicly funded program will integrate licensed behavioral health clinician Jasmine Daniels into the Augusta police force. She will respond separately from public security personnel to drug overdoses or calls involving people with substance use disorders.
Daniels will offer short-term counseling, help them find help, and work to reduce the likelihood that they will die from drug use.
Augusta Police tried a diversion program in 2017 and 2018, said Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills, but it never really took off, failing to attract many attendees.
This program offered people caught in possession of illegal drugs, but who were not considered to be traffickers, the opportunity to undergo a treatment program instead of facing criminal charges. Mills said city police are still participating in a similar diversion program with the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office.
But, he said, drug addicts are generally not likely to seek help from a police officer.
They are more likely, according to studies, to seek help from someone like Daniels. She previously worked in central Maine to help people facing behavioral health crises.
Daniels will be in the community to offer help and a path to treatment, without risking being arrested as well.
“The paradigm has changed. It’s a disease, a disease, rather than a crime, that’s how our thought process has changed, ”Mills said. “If you’re addicted to drugs, the last person you want to be with is a police officer.
“So it is we who take a step back, as law enforcement, and let treatment pave the way and be the priority at this stage,” he added. “We would document the situation, if we were involved, in a report, but the priority at this point would be to get the person for treatment, not to give them a court date.”
Daniels, from Augusta, 36, previously worked as a nighttime crisis assistant and team leader in Crisis and Counseling’s mobile triage program, where she worked to help people with health crises behavioral.
“I really care about Augusta, I grew up here, I was born and raised here, and I want to be part of the change that is happening in the community,” she said. “There will be a learning process, so what we do will be fluid. But the goal will be the same. To reduce the number of overdose deaths occurring in our community. “
Daniels will get referrals of people needing help from the police and firefighters in Augusta. She’s hoping that eventually she can use a card to provide email alerts for overdoses.
She will also be willing to meet people in the emergency room and schedule 30, 60 and 90 day follow-ups with people after their first interaction with them.
“We are prioritizing non-fatal overdoses, but we will also meet with people who want drug treatment,” Daniels said. “I’m going to meet with them, determine where they are and we have benchmarks to help determine the appropriate level of care. “
It will also help addicts who may not be ready to quit, focusing on harm reduction if they resist treatment. This could include providing them with fentanyl test strips, Narcan for overdose, and educating users on needle exchange to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Daniels said the idea is to launch the Integrated Police program in Augusta, but later expand it to support referrals throughout Kennebec County.
Mills said Daniels, well versed in drug addiction, recovery and treatment, will be better able than a police officer to help those who need to connect to services. He said she will also be able to respond to help homeless people find housing.
“All we have now, basically, is a list in the lobby that says if you need help call that number,” Mills said. “The Liaison Officer (Daniels) will get to know the people in the community and be there with them regularly. So when they’re ready to get help, they’ll be there to provide it. “
The new program is funded by Governor Janet Mills’ OPTIONS initiative, a state program launched last year to help addicts get help.
The initiative, which stands for Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety, aims to help people with substance use disorders and curb fatal opioid overdoses. Mobile response teams should be established in every county in Maine, focusing on communities that have high rates of drug overdoses.
Jared Mills said the program is modeled after the one in Portland which he says has been quite successful. He said Lewiston Police have started a similar program with an OPTIONS worker.
Chief Mills said there is currently help available for drug addicts, being made available as part of ongoing efforts to tackle the opioid addiction crisis.
Daniels said Crisis and Counseling has kept spaces open specifically for her to refer clients to for counseling services.
Chief Mills said people looking for a referral to the program can call Augusta or Daniels Police directly at 207-446-3304. More information about the program is available at Crisisandcounseling.org/services/options/. The Maine crisis line, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is 888-568-1112.
The program is funded for four years. The Kennebec County program is expected to receive $ 83,500 each of these years, intended to cover the salary and benefits of the liaison officer, as well as the costs of continuing professional development, program supervision, the cost of naloxone distribution and other operating expenses.
Augusta Police also work with the state’s Intensive Mental Health Case Manager Greg Smith, who assists police when responding to calls involving someone who may be in a mental health crisis. The department has also worked with crisis and counseling service providers in the past on appeals involving people in crisis.
Daniels does not care about her own personal safety when answering calls, noting that there are safety protocols in place. While working in Augusta, the city’s public security dispatch center will monitor her; when she’s out of town, her crisis team will.
Daniels said the risk was no greater for her than in her behavioral crisis response work.
“It’s the wait, for you to go out and help people,” she said.
Her schedule may change based on the needs of the community, but initially she is expected to work 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. or noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. If an overdose occurs when it is not on time, Daniels will contact the person when they return to work.
Augusta receives $ 1.6 million donation for artificial turf and other work at Cony’s Alumni Field