By Mark Powell
In 2016, Montgomery County’s Chief of Police J. Thomas Manger crafted a new, innovative program for his police department to utilize when encountering individuals with substance use disorders. Rather than arrest people for crimes linked to their drug use, the program employs a public health rather than punitive approach called Stop, Triage, Engage, Educate and Rehabilitate (STEER).
STEER is a pre-booking law enforcement and drug treatment linkage program operating in Montgomery County. It provides rapid identification, deflection, and access to treatment for drug-involved individuals encountered by law enforcement as an alternative to conventional arrest and booking. A comprehensive continuum of treatment options is made available to participants, with staff providing connections to local outreach and treatment options.
Police officers assess whether a person is a candidate for the program. If certain criminal charges are present, they can be held in abeyance provided the individual voluntarily accepts a STEER referral. If no criminal charges are present, the individual can still be referred to STEER via a prevention contact. After the initial screening, a care coordinator from a local treatment center focuses on rapid treatment access, retention, motivation, engagement and completion, as well as a full clinical assessment and referral to treatment resources to address their underlying substance use disorder and mental health challenges. The coordinator will contact the participants at their homes, treatment or elsewhere to support their recovery.
By providing hope for recovery instead of jail time, STEER is addressing the core cause of community problems instead of treating their many symptoms.
STEER was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.