ENFIELD, CT — Many ideas have been tried to stem the drug crisis that took more than 1,000 lives in Connecticut in 2017. The latest is an innovative version of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” being tried in the town of Enfield.
Enfield knows the opioid and heroin drug epidemic well — as 14 people died of drug overdoses in town in 2017, making it one of the towns hardest hit by the epidemic that is killing more than three people a day in Connecticut.
For that reason, the police chief is trying something different to stem the crisis.
Starting in late May, Police Chief Alaric Fox rolled out the initiative.
Persons who request help with their addiction to opiates may do so by coming to the police department headquarters on Elm Street, by approaching an officer in person, or by calling the department at 860-763-6400.
The order to all members of the police department, effective May 28, states, “Any individual who enters the Enfield Police Department, or who otherwise contacts the Enfield Police Department and requests help with their addiction to opiates will be provided with medical assistance, as described below, in lieu of an arrest of that individual.
“Any officer having contact with such an individual will notify the shift commander that a potential opioid addiction intake is requesting help with their addiction,” the order states.
The order further states: “Officers who interact with persons in the field, who are in possession of small amounts of “personal use” opiates, or drug-related paraphernalia associated with opioid use, may use this procedure in lieu of, or in conjunction with, an arrest.”
St. Francis Hospital would be the destination of those deemed to be in need of medical assistance, with transportation being done by an assigned police officer or, if medically necessary, by Enfield EMS. A similar arrangement is soon anticipated with Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford, according to the order.
There are two exceptions in the new policy, according to the order. One is for individuals under age 18 who do not have parental or guardian consent.
“In the event that a person under age 18 does request assistance under this policy, every reasonable effort shall be made to contact a parent or legal guardian to attempt to secure such assistance,” the order states.
The second exception is for individuals for whom outstanding arrest warrants exist. The policy reads, “A person will be deemed ineligible to participate in this program if they are the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant and they are unable to make any court set bond. Under any such circumstances, however, appropriate medical care will be provided in connection with their detention.”
The Enfield model isn’t unique; the police chief said his policy mimicked a similar one that has been put into place by the Manchester police department.
And Manchester police officials readily admit that they based their program on one that already been started in 2015 in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Regardless of who gets the credit for inventing the program, the Enfield police chief’s order is being applauded by one person who has become a leading spokesperson in Connecticut in the opioid addiction crisis.
Sue Kruczek, of Guilford, who lost her son, Nick, to a drug overdose in 2013, and has sat in on recent panels at the White House on the opioid crisis, is a fan of the Enfield police chief’s order.
“I think it sounds like a fantastic program,” said Kruczek, who has become an outspoken advocate in Connecticut on programs to battle drug overdoses. “A great humanitarian effort to help.”
“Heroin retains such a ferocious grip on the brain cells that relapses are normal,” Kruczek said. “Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. Addicts should be treated with compassion and as a health issue instead of a crime. I thank the police department for shifting from punishment to treatment.”
Another fan of the Enfield plan is the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon.
“I applaud Chief Fox and the Enfield Police Department in their efforts to address the opioid crisis in their community in a way that is compassionate and empathetic,” Delphin-Rittmon said.
“Recognizing addiction as a chronic illness rather than a crime, allows us to connect people to treatment and services rather than with the judicial system,” Delphin-Rittmon added. “This initiative highlights the value of creative collaboration in Connecticut’s response to the opioid crisis.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who has taken on a leading role in Washington, on the opioid crisis, also has taken notice.
“This program treats the opioid epidemic like the public health emergency it is and makes sure that we aren’t punishing people who are struggling with addiction,” Murphy said. “I’ve met with law enforcement officers from across the state, and I’m glad to see local police like the Enfield Police Department taking on an even larger role in connecting people in Connecticut to the treatment they desperately need.”