Amnesty offered to recovering drug addicts

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury police and some local human services organizations are teaming up on a new program through which drug addicts will be invited to voluntarily turn in their drugs without fear of facing criminal charges, providing they agree to be steered toward recovery programs and services.
It is an offering that is being patterned after the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) established earlier this year in Gloucester, Mass. It is now being replicated in 34 communities in 10 states throughout the country. Middlebury is the first community in Vermont to offer this kind of amnesty program, according to the paariusa.org website.
Middlebury police’s adoption of the program comes on the heels of its decision this past summer to install a drug disposal bin within its headquarters off Seymour Street. People can drop their unused prescription medications and other drugs into the bin, no questions asked, around the clock. The bin has already been emptied several times, its contents disposed of per federal drug enforcement guidelines.
Spearheading the program is Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley, who for several years led a narcotics unit at the Wallingford (Connecticut) Police Department prior to his move to Vermont. Hanley said while the narcotics unit made numerous busts and seized a lot of illegal drugs, the effort came at a significant cost and did not address the root problem of addiction as an illness and catalyst for crime.
“The drug problem did not go away,” Hanley said of Wallingford. “When I left there (in 1990), drugs were just as bad as when I started doing it.”
Hanley refers to enforcement alone as a “whack-a-mole approach,” through which he said police departments can get caught up making individual busts that simply recur in the absence of a complementary effort to remedy the underlying problem of addiction.
“We had to come up with a different way of dealing with this,” Hanley said. “We look at (drug) addiction the same way people are addicted to tobacco, to alcohol or whatever it happens to be. We need to deal with it as a health issue and not so much as a criminal issue.”
With that in mind, Hanley recently contacted Bill Brim, executive director of the TurningPoint Center of Addison County. The Middlebury nonprofit provides a safe, sober space for anyone seeking to recover from addiction; hosts and facilitates discussion groups for those in recovery (and their families); and provides one-on-one coaching to those in need.
Hanley asked Brim if he’d like to collaborate on a PAARI program. Participants will turn over non-prescribed drugs in their possession and be referred to programs and agencies that can help them kick the habit. The proposed Middlebury police budget for fiscal year 2017 will include a request for a supply of Narcan for officers to use on people they encounter who have overdosed on opiates.
Those wishing to take advantage of the local version of the program can do so by visiting the Middlebury police headquarters, or by contacting a local officer in the field. Middlebury police have received training in the new service, according to Hanley.
“We want to be a resource here for folks with addiction,” Hanley said. “Rather than just enforce the laws for drugs — which you still have to do — you need to give people places to go if they need help.”
Hanley has also reached out to the Counseling Service of Addison County to participate in the PAARI partnership.
Supporters of the Middlebury program believe those addicted to drugs will be more likely to come forward to deal with their addiction if they see the police as an ally in the avenue to recovery, rather than simply as an enforcement organization.
“By instilling fear of the police in people about the whole arrest thing and the stigma that goes along with that, I don’t think we are helping the problem, and we are going to change that,” Hanley said. “If someone is in crisis and comes to us for help, we are going to help them.
“No longer will it be, ‘Let someone else deal with it.’”
But Hanley stressed that drug dealers should not expect leniency.
“People who are marketing this stuff to vulnerable people fall outside the purview of this (program),” Hanley said. “We are still going to take an awful hard stance with that.”
Brim said he is excited to work with Hanley on the Middlebury version of PAARI.
“I think it’s a great idea the chief came up with,” Brim said. “We work with a lot of people who are struggling with addiction issues. If they really want help and they really want to work on their recovery, this is a perfect place for them to come and work on that. Hopefully, they will win and the community will win from it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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