MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Pa. - Montgomery County is instructing police not to arrest substance abusers, but instead to lead them to treatment.
The county had 257 overdose deaths last year, and because of that, is implementing a new program called the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI). Operating in nine Pennsylvania counties, officials say it’s designed to save lives by funneling substance abusers to treatment by simply walking into a police department or asking a cop for help.
If eligible, police would get the user screened in a county-approved program and may give them a ride to a facility.
This program was announced at a press conference in Montgomery County’s courthouse with police standing in support. It included a local attorney emotionally saying he hit rock bottom with booze.
"I was motivated. I had lost a good job. I had lost my wife. I needed help," said Robert Lefevre of Morrow and Lefevre, LLC.
Barb Senst, whose 20-year-old son died in 2018 of an overdose in his upstairs bedroom, says she believes it’s a positive approach and encourages facing tough obstacles. Senst founded a Springfield Township group to help families combat addiction and believes cops will need training.
"When my son was going through this it was not easy, not easy at all. We did not have a friendly relationship with police," she said.
The Chief of Montgomery Township Police says his officers will get it and buy-in.
The District Attorney pledges only those facing misdemeanor charges, such as theft, are eligible.
"We’re not looking to put drug traffickers into the program. There are some people out there dealing drugs to support their habits," Kevin Steele, Montgomery County District Attorney.
"If someone is on probation and they fall off the wagon and gets some heroin, they need help not being thrown in jail," said Senst.
Using cops to trigger treatment may be a big challenge with life and death consequences for users.
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