Updated: Mar 12
By Mark Powell
When Help Comes Calling
Sometimes, the challenge isn’t knowing what to do. It’s figuring out how to do it.
A few years ago, New Castle County was one of the hardest-hit counties for property crime. At the same time, the rate of overdoses in the community also continued to rise. It didn’t take long for law enforcement to realize that many of those arrested for property crimes also were dealing with a substance use disorder. They wanted to assist those people in getting help and also decrease crime. But how?
Former Police Chief E.M. Setting had heard about the Angel program in Massachusetts, a model that assists by providing treatment in lieu of arrest. He thought it was worth a closer look. And so, HERO HELP was launched in May 2016. Major Robert McLucas was tasked as the project’s coordinator.
“We took the basic idea of opening the doors of the police department 24/7 to anyone who suffers from any form of a substance use disorder,” McLucas says. “We wanted to help in more ways. We have data. We know nearly instantly about an overdose, such as who experienced it, where they were located, how many times they’ve overdosed.” They built a team of a uniformed police officer, a registered nurse who specializes in addiction, and a civilian coordinator. Using non-fatal overdose data from the New Castle County Police Department Crime Analysis Unit, outreach personnel identify individuals at high risk of fatal overdose and engage them in addiction treatment services, preventing future overdoses and empowering the community to affect change.
The HERO HELP Program is officially designated as a Delaware Community-Based Naloxone Access Program, allowing it to train high-risk individuals, their family members and loved ones in the safe use and storage of naloxone and provide a free naloxone kit at no cost.
“Our goal is to stop the deaths, get people the help they need and reduce crime,” adds Major McLucas. “We give families hope that resources are available and that someone can help their loved one break through their addiction in lieu of arrest.”
Eligibility for participation in the program largely depends on a person’s criminal history. Once someone is accepted, the wheels begin spinning. “Treatment is immediate,” explains police Lieutenant Jake Andrews. “If someone is waiting weeks and months to get into treatment, we may miss the opportunity to engage them in treatment.” Transportation to and from treatment is provided when needed. No one is turned away from help; even if the person isn’t eligible to formally receive assistance, referrals are still made.
In 2017, the New Castle County Police Department was awarded the Combating Opioid Overdose through Community Intervention Initiative award through the University of Baltimore. As a result of that funding, the HERO HELP program hired Dan Maas as the fulltime coordinator on March 1, 2018, and the number of admissions increased from 70 (between May 2016 through February 2018) to a total of 243 by March 14, 2019. “We understand that relapse is part of recovery,” Maas points out. “We meet people where they are and do our best to address the social mitigating factors that often hinder the recovery process.”
HERO HELP personnel offer addiction assistance in lieu of arrest for prostitution and human trafficking cases as well. Kate Lott, RN, who runs the only state-funded detox facility in New Castle County remembers a mother who’d been arrested during a prostitution operation. Lott assured the mother that HERO HELP would give her the opportunity to address her addiction and mental health issues and find a new way to live. Major McLucas concludes, “Most of the individuals we arrest for property crimes are struggling with addiction; but, not all of those struggling with addiction are criminals. HERO HELP provides police officers with another tool to help Delawareans impacted by addiction.”
HERO HELP 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.