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D.A.R.T. (Drug Abuse Response Team)

By Simone Greene

DART Hits the Target

After Vietnam, time as a combat medic and over 40 years in law enforcement, Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp thought he’d seen it all. He was mistaken. Nothing could prepare him to witness people suffering through addiction and withdrawal in jail. “Every time I walked in, I would see a young person, people you would never imagine lying in a cell, suffering through withdrawal. It was a horrible sight, and I knew I wanted to help.”

So, Sheriff Tharp talked to the county’s fire chief about a plan to respond to the overdose and addiction problem. Local fire departments began sharing overdose information with the sheriff’s office, which then followed up with people in the emergency room. Additionally, Sheriff Tharp made a simple request to officers: “Don’t take people to jail after an overdose, take them to detox instead.” He eventually assigned a special D.A.R.T (Drug Abuse Response Team) unit to meet with overdose patients in the community and emergency room, and to encourage treatment. “The window of opportunity is so short and we want to engage them immediately,” says Sheriff Tharp.

When the D.A.R.T unit is alerted of an overdose, it meets the individual in the emergency room. Officers work hard to develop trust and rapport to encourage treatment. Once someone is engaged in treatment, D.A.R.T officers continue contact. “We never wash our hands of them,” says Sheriff Tharp.

He partnered with the local Children’s Services Agency to deputize a peace officer as a D.A.R.T officer to provide services to kids impacted by addiction. Sheriff Tharp plans to do the same with the local Office of Aging. D.A.R.T officers are in hospitals, libraries and colleges around the county. The numbers show the unit’s reach. It has engaged over 5,000 individuals with an 80% success rate.

“Many people ask why should we help those who have suffered an overdose,” says Sheriff Tharp. “I tell them it’s because they are human beings who need help.” The D.A.R.T unit’s success has gone a long way in changing attitudes and stigma. Since 2014, community support has been tremendous. In the beginning, only 16 detox beds were available locally. Now there are 160. After seeing the D.A.R.T unit driving around in old cars, a local car dealership donated new models.

You don’t have to look far to see the difference being made. Sheriff Tharp tells the story of a couple he encountered on Halloween night. He was scanning candy for any signs of tampering. They made a point to tell him, D.A.R.T saved their lives, and their family, too. “These moments,” says Sheriff Tharp, “make it all worth it.”

D.A.R.T. was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.

Simone Greene works to highlight best practices and innovators in the field of addiction through her work at Addiction Policy Forum. Prior to joining, she was a project coordinator for The Moss Group, a correctional consulting firm based in Washington, DC. She received her master’s degree in Forensic and Legal Psychology from Marymount University.


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