Bel Air police claim new program is helping reduce opioid overdose numbers

BEL AIR, Md. (WMAR) — In Bel Air, the shroud of heroin and opioid addiction is rattling the town’s police department — in the past few years, they’ve been inundated with calls of overdoses and even worse — deaths.

For the last four years, Police Chief Charles Moore has watched as the number of those impacted have slowly crept up into the city of a little more than 10,000 people.

“We started to really look into how this happened and what we could do to try to resolve, or try to fix the problem,” Moore said.

Initially, Moore says first responders would treat the case a proverbial band-aid; helping those that have overdoses with life-saving Naloxone or even putting a person in jail.

But the problems worsened, until Moore got an idea from his peers in western Maryland by creating a Drug Abatement Response Team or D.A.R.T.

“We were in a spiraling downward epidemic of opioid overdoses and the overdoses only show a small fraction of the actual addiction problem,” Det. Matthew Gullion, one of the key members of the program’s development, said.

Gullion was on board from the beginning.

The program would be a partnership — a holistic approach to tackling addiction in Bel Air by the police department, the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy, and the non-profit, Family and Children’s Services.

“The important aspect is getting the behavioral health assistance, the wellness, to the people who need it most and what we’re finding is those are the people that are currently addicted to, not just opioids, but alcoholism, other pills, and other substances as well,” Gullion said.

And it starts at one of the non-profit’s campuses, helping those suffering develop a recovery solution plan.

The plan would allow for peer recovery specialists to walk with overdose survivors through the long road of getting better.

“Sure, we can help someone get clean — we being the community. But they’re not going to be able to sustain that unless you get to the root cause of what led them to numb out and not experience their feelings in the first place,” Jennifer Redding, the deputy chief of behavioral health services for Family and Children’s Services, said.

In the year D.A.R.T. has been implemented, eight people who’d previously overdosed have been referred to the program.

None of them overdosed again.

“We’re able to provide, not only therapy and behavioral health services, we can also provide case management. So often times, if someone is overdosing or experiencing some sort of impact by drugs or alcohol, they’re not ready to come in and talk to a therapist right out the gate and so that’s the beauty of case management,” Redding said.

It’s why leaders in Bel Air say D.A.R.T. is working.

Despite an increase in overdose deaths in the city in 2018, the amount of people overdosing has decreased by nearly 40 percent.

Chief Moore calls it a statistical success.

“That was enough for me to say we’re having a positive impact,” Moore said.

And while it’s a small sample size, police think the program could be big for other jurisdictions in the battle against opioid addiction.

“We can solve this problem through behavioral health. We can’t arrest our way out of this,” Gullion said.

For more information on how to get those who may be suffering some help, visit the Family and Children’s Services website here.

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