WEST CHESTER, PA —Chester County residents with opioid and other addiction issues no longer have to fear police locking them up.
Police now have a new role: helping those in addiction to get help to recover, not locking them up.
The new role is the result of Chester County joining Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative.
The goal of the initiative is to connect individuals suffering from substance use disorder with treatment options.
“I am so excited about this,” Chris Brown, a recovery specialist, said Wednesday after Shapiro unveiled the new program to the public during a press conference in Chester County Government Center, West Goshen Township.
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“This will help keep the community together. When you are an addict, you get scared around the police.”
Shapiro, a Democrat candidate for governor, said his top priority as chief law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania is to save lives by breaking the stigma of drug and alcohol addiction.
“People are suffering all across this Commonwealth – Black, white, brown, rich, poor, male female, rural, urban, suburban,” Shapiro said. “Everyone’s lives are touched in some form or fashion by this crisis that claims the lives of 14 Pennsylvanians each and every day.”
Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said fortunately Chester County is seeing a 37% decline in drug overdose deaths.
In 2017, the county lost 144 residents to overdoses. In comparison in 2021, the county lost 90.
“The deaths have left us grieving in most unimaginable ways,” Ryan said during the press conference.
Ryan said the program offers three tracks:
- Track 1: Available for a person with a substance abuse disorder through a self referral or a referral from a friend or family member. The individual can walk into a police department with “no questions asked.” Police will then refer the individual for treatment services.
- Track 2: Available for law enforcement to redirect suspects with substance abuse issues to treatment. If successful with treatment, charges will not be filed.
- Track 3: Available in district court for first-time offenders charged with a low-level nonviolent crime. If the individual completes treatment and is deemed successful, the district attorney’s office and police will withdraw charges.
Downingtown Police Chief Howard Holland thanked the attorney general and county commissioners for giving police options.
“This drug has destroyed this county and this country,” Holland said. “We are the ones in
in first contact. We are the ones distributing Naloxone.
We are the ones protecting our community and that is what our job is about, protecting the community, not just making arrests.”
County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz said the county sponsors 5-K runs to raise awareness of the opioid and heroin addiction crisis.
Moskowitz said Chester County remembers those whose lives were lost to addiction and supports addicts who are suffering in addiction.
Vince Brown, executive director of Chester County Drug and Alcohol Services, said the program will help addicts feel comfortable with law enforcement.
“People will get into treatment rather than going through the courts,” he said.