LIMA — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office will award $100,000 to the Lima Police Department for its Substance Abuse Assistance for Everyone program, which aims to treat drug addicts instead of putting them in jail.
The program, which is also known as SAAFE, was implemented more than four weeks ago. At a recent Opioid Action Committee meeting, Sgt. Nick Hart of the Lima Police Department said the program offers treatment instead of criminal charges for drug abusers who are serious about making changes in their lives.
At the meeting, Hart relayed a personal insight into the need for an optional approach to law enforcement. He said he was working security for a fast-food restaurant and saw some young patrons exhibiting “obvious signs of drug addiction.”
Arresting the youths was not a legal option, “and a month later they were both dead,” Hart said. “That got us thinking what else we could do as law enforcement officers.”
That’s when SAAFE was born. Under the evolving guidelines of the program, Hart said, officers have options on how certain situations involving drug abuse may be handled. In many cases, offenders will have the option of entering a diversion program to avoid criminal charges.
Hart cited the case of a 30-year-old mother who was found to be in possession of heroin. If she enters and stays in a treatment program, there will be no criminal charges against her, he said.
“Our goal is not to put them in jail,” Hart said of victims of drug abuse. “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem. We want to get these people some help. Our goal is treatment, not incarceration.”
Hart said that, of seven people deemed eligible for SAAFE in the first few weeks of the new program, four have taken advantage of the opportunity to turn their lives around.
Bath Township Fire Chief Joe Kitchen, also in attendance at the Opioid Action Coalition meeting, praised the SAAFE program.
“I’m really impressed with what the Lima Police Department is doing,” Kitchen said. “This is an awesome program.”
The $100,000 in funding LPD will receive is part of a $3 million grant that was allocated from the state budget. It will be administered to 40 law enforcement agencies and their partners across the state. Most of the funding will be distributed to Drug Abuse Response Teams or Quick Response Teams in an effort to address the opioid epidemic in Ohio.
Other local departments receiving funding include the Findlay Police Department, which will be awarded $100,000 for the Hancock County Quick Response Team, and the Sidney Police Department, which will gain $50,000 for the Sidney Addict Assistance Team.
These teams are typically made up of law enforcement officers who have partnered with drug treatment providers and others who assist overdose survivors in the recovery process. Team members visit survivors after an overdose, and offer counseling and referrals to drug rehabilitation facilities for assessment, detoxification, on-going drug treatment, and aftercare. The teams also work to reduce overdose-related deaths, reduce repeated overdoses per victim, and increase the support network for survivors and their families.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @Bush_Lima.