Pubdate: Sun, 29 May 2016
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2016 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Authors: K. Burnell Evans and John Ramsey


Richmond police Capt. Michael Zohab is building an army for the war 
on drugs. But his fight, as supervisor of the city's narcotics unit, 
is not against the people using them.

Instead, the 28- year police veteran is laying the groundwork for the 
department to join a growing number of law enforcement agencies 
across the country whose precincts have become unlikely sanctuaries 
for those who want help getting off drugs. Rather than putting 
substance abusers in handcuffs, Zohab wants to give them a hand up in 
the fight of their lives. And he needs all the help he can get.

"People are dying," Zohab said. "We need to do everything in our 
power to help anyone we can. That's what we are here to do."

 From 2007 through 2015, heroin killed more people in Richmond than 
anywhere else in the state. And the numbers keep rising.

At last count, there have been 24 opioid-related deaths and 144 
nonlethal overdoses in the city this year. That's up from 12 opioid- 
related deaths and 46 overdoses by this point in 2015. Chesterfield 
County has seen 78 heroin overdoses alone so far in 2016, 11 of which 
were fatal.

Zohab checks the numbers each morning, even when he's off duty, 
hoping there will not be another name added to his list. His nephew 
fatally overdosed on heroin last month, out of state.

Since last summer, he has been courting community partners, lobbied 
city officials and made the case to his peers that the best way to 
combat addiction is connecting people with treatment.

And in cities that have adopted the model, crime is down, he says. So 
are deaths.

The city of Roanoke's Police Department plans to adopt a similar 
program this summer, according to a spokesman. Richmond and Roanoke 
would be the first cities in Virginia to adopt the model; about 90 
departments were laying plans to do the same as of the beginning of 
the year, according to the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative.

Richmond's program initially will target people who just have 
survived an overdose. Zohab said police have been floating the idea 
to those they have encountered who would qualify, and about 10 
percent said they would use the program if it were available.

"Realistically we have people who say, ' I need to get out of here. I 
need to get high,'" Zohab said. "If they're not ready, there's no 
point in forcing them to get help."

Eventually people will be able to walk into a precinct and ask for 
help with any addiction, at any time. Zohab could not say when that 
option would be available.

"We're writing a story here," he said, based on policies from the 
police department that launched the archetype of the program in 2015.

The chief of that department, Leonard Campanella of Gloucester, 
Mass., told an audience of law enforcement and community members last 
month at the Thomas R. Fulgham Center in Midlothian not to wait until 
every last detail was ironed out.

Campanella rose to national prominence after a department Facebook 
post declaring the war on drugs lost, and addiction a disease, went 
viral in 2015. They opened their doors to anyone seeking treatment 
for substance abuse and pledged to find them help.

"Don't spend six months thinking about it - you're never going to 
figure it out," Campanella said. "Give it the proper attention, get 
all the stakeholders in the room and launch it."

The message resonated with Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham, who 
said after the speech that he would have liked to launch the program 
months earlier.

"This is a top priority for this department and for this city," 
Durham said. "It's just trying to get everyone together and on the 
same page. .. There are a lot of components to this; it's a complex issue."

After connecting someone with a volunteer, the department would work 
with community partners to match the person with treatment that meets 
their needs, be it outpatient or inpatient.

Teresa McBean of the faith-based Northstar Community recovery 
ministry in Chesterfield is organizing and coordinating training for 
the first round of volunteers who will respond when someone agrees to 
seek help.

McBean said the program's strength lies in leveraging that brief 
moment of clarity.

"In the recovery field, we have this statement that very often when 
somebody is willing to accept help, you need to act on it right 
then," she said.

"They don't usually get a week of clarity. The compulsion of 
addiction is so strong that when somebody says, ' Yes I'm willing to 
get help,' you need to act on it right now."

There are questions that still need answering, such as funding for 
indigent people and how much treatment would cost.

Zohab said he and Durham have met with state and local officials in 
recent months to discuss finding workarounds, which includes pursuing private

So, too, is the Roanoke Police Department, spokesman Scott Leamon 
said. What's envisioned is a partnership with community groups that 
would revolve around drop-in hours, mostly off-site from the police 
department, Leamon said.

"We think addiction is a disease and you have to treat it as a 
disease," he said. "The plan is that we would never turn anyone away. 
You wouldn't turn a cancer patient away."

But there are issues: the uninsured; detox treatment capacity; the 
question of costs that thus far have not been estimated.

"We're hoping to try and secure some donations to help," Leamon said. 
"This is still in its infancy."

This month, Leamon and a Roanoke officer made the seven-hour round- 
trip drive to the town of Nashville, N. C., to ask Police Chief 
Thomas Bashore how he had managed to implement a similar program with 
only 16 sworn officers.

Bashore answered the main line on a recent weekday from his single- 
story office on South Barnes Street, sandwiched between a fire 
station and the municipal building for the town of about 5,500.

"I was afraid," Bashore said, of kick-starting the program Feb. 9. 
"At first I worried, ' What if nobody shows up?' The next day, it 
was, ' What if 50 people walk through those doors?'"

So far, 22 people have shown up: some alone, some with loved ones, 
all desperate for help. He hears it in their voices.

"That's what drives me," Bashore said. "The families I talk to and 
follow up with."

Bashore said 37 people have signed up to answer the call when he has 
a walk-in seeking help. Most volunteers are in recovery or are family 
members of those who have overdosed and died.

It has been a struggle at times - especially in the beginning, when 
it seemed all the nearby beds where people could detox were full.

People who didn't have health insurance and couldn't afford it 
brought added challenges. North Carolina, like Virginia, lacks the 
near- universal health coverage in place in Massachusetts, where the 
first program began.

"That's been my biggest headache and struggle - being able to find 
resources for the people who want help and don't have them," he said.

But with persistence and the help of community partners, Bashore said 
they have been able to meet everyone's needs, for now. And whatever 
headaches have come with helping people pale in comparison with the 
frustrations that came before.

"As law enforcement officers we would see a lot of these same 
people," he said. "They would get arrested on a possession charge, 
get locked up, bond out and be back on the street doing the same 
thing - and nobody could do anything about it."
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