Jon O’Connell The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.
SCRANTON, Pa. — Instead of handcuffs and a holding cell, drug addicts who walk into the Scranton Police Department and turn over their contraband soon might find a helping hand.
A new program called Second Chance PA, which has had success in other parts of the state, would allow police officers to funnel addicts into treatment programs instead of slapping them with misdemeanor possession charges.
The program is helmed by one of the region’s best-known faces in drug recovery — Marty Henehan of the Forever Sammi Foundation — as well as Chris Dreisbach, chief executive of Blueprints for Addiction Recovery Inc., which is based in Lancaster County.
They’re working to kick off Second Chance with the Scranton Police Department in the coming months.
The program also puts certified addiction recovery specialists on the front lines, responding with police, on overdose calls.
“Instead of waiting for the warm handoff, we take them right into the fire handoff,” Dreisbach said.
After an overdose, the hospital or the ambulance ride to get there is typically the first place an addict will meet a recovery specialist or counselor who gets to know them.
But when emergency workers use the drug naloxone to revive overdose victims on the scene, victims can decline further medical treatment and lose that push that sends them to the help they need.
“As beneficial as the warm handoff program is, and I wholeheartedly endorse it, for the addict who overdoses in his living room and gets revived by the Narcan that his scared mother has in the bathroom, he’s not going to the emergency room,” Henehan said, referring to naloxone by its commercial name.
“So he becomes invisible — so he doesn’t get the opportunity to get that intervention done at the time of the crisis,” he said.
Scranton Police Chief Carl Graziano expects officers will get behind the program.
They’re already wearied from seeing so many people, including young people, die from their addictions, he said.
Lackawanna County marked 67 confirmed overdose deaths in 2018, according to most recent figures from the county coroner’s office. But that could rise as high as 96.
Coroner Tim Rowland said his office is waiting to finalize toxicology reports for 29 additional cases.
“It’s a plague. It really is,” Graziano said. “If that doesn’t change your mindset to try to do something different to correct this epidemic — I don’t think anybody needs to tell them.”
Second Chance is not a blanket get-out-of-jail-free card, and those with outstanding warrants or accused of greater crimes will still face criminal charges.
Whether addicts have health insurance or not, recovery specialists will move cases to the Lackawanna-Susquehanna Office of Alcohol and Drug Programs for case-specific help.
“My office for both Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties can provide the funding, the actual money to connect people to treatment,” office Director Barbara Durkin said.
Treatment might include a monthlong stay at a rehab center, outpatient medically assisted treatment that includes regular doses of drugs that abate cravings, or something different.
“We really try to make a clinical determination and then also make an individualized determination,” Durkin said. “For people with an opioid use disorder, medically assisted treatment in combination with actual psychotherapy such as an inpatient stay or outpatient treatment is very beneficial.”
Second Chance is a Blueprints project, but Dreisbach is personally funding it. The businessman, who works in real estate and runs the Blueprints rehabilitation and recovery center in Elizabethtown, called it his “social experiment.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has put the addiction crisis high on his priority list, and state Rep. Marty Flynn, D-113, Scranton, said he’s keeping his eyes peeled for possible funding to help.
“I’m in full support of anyone trying to make a difference,” he said.
While there’s no substantial reimbursement structure for the hours his recovery specialists put in, Dreisbach has already seen Second Chance work with the Elizabethtown Police Department, and he thinks Scranton could be the next proving ground for what he hopes will one day become a national model.
“There’s lots of places across the country that are doing one thing or another,” he said. “We kind of brought everything together with the Second Chance program.”
Once an addict consents to the program, recovery specialists follow up with daily phone calls. They build trust with their clients and work to keep them on track.
“Everybody’s going to be on the same page between the first responders and the recovery community,” he said. “And that’s why I think Second Chance PA is going to work over top of everything else that’s been done.”
©2019 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)