Emeryville Police Chief Jennifer Tejada didn’t mince any words on Twitter recently in response to a series of opioid overdoses in her city. “We need comprehensive services for drug addiction & mental health,” she said in a tweet. “THE TIME IS NOW!”
On Friday, April 26th, a suspected shoplifter in custody became unresponsive and demonstrated symptoms consistent with an overdose. The next day, Officers responded to an area near 63rd & Market to conduct a welfare check on a person displaying “bizarre and erratic behavior”.
Now twice this week for EPD. Ofc Goodfellow gave NARCAN to subject who collapsed & stopped breathing We need comprehensive services for drug addiction & mental health THE TIME IS NOW! #CRISIS-Homelessness-drug addiction- mental health-all connected.
— Jennifer Tejada (@ChiefTejada) April 28, 2019
In both instances, the officers identified the symptoms as an opioid overdose and administered Naloxone. These decisive actions likely saved the lives of these overdose victims while awaiting medical emergency personnel. During both investigations, Officers located contraband associated with opioid use.
Symptoms of an opioid overdose include rapid shallow breathing and a weak pulse. Emeryville Police officers were trained on how to recognize these symptoms and administer the life saving drug last year.
Tejada has been outspoken on mental health issues and has urged elected officials to prioritize services for those suffering from them through her involvement in an organization called Behavioral Health Action.
Behavioral Health Action is composed of a broad-based coalition of small businesses, labor, law enforcement, service and not-for-profit providers and county mental health departments.
Law enforcement agencies have been thrust into the front lines of an addiction and mental health crisis that has not traditionally been in their job description. Police Chiefs’ are more frequently voicing their frustration with a crisis that is taxing community resources and becoming an endless cycle for them and those suffering from addiction.
Much of the local political efforts have revolved around hashtag activism like “ending mass-incarceration,” decriminalizing drugs, eliminating “anti-homeless” laws, reducing penalties for “non-violent”crimes and preaching for sustained compassion. While these solutions look to tackle the root of the problem, they ultimately lack a carrot-and-stick approach to solving them in the short-term.
Many local politicians have dismissed homelessness as largely a symptom of a housing shortage and poverty and downplayed the percentage of homelessness suffering from addiction and mental health issues to avoid stigmatizing the entire homeless population.
Rhode Island’s “MAT” Model Touted
Amidst this ongoing national crisis, more municipalities are taking note of the efforts of our nation’s smallest state. Rhode Island has embraced bringing services to their prison system as a way of breaking the cycle of addiction and reducing overdoses.
Their Medication-Assisted Treatment or “MAT” program relies on a dual “enforcement and intervention” combination that aggressively treats them while in the prison system and when discharged.
Rhode Island’s approach is detailed in the KOMO news special “Seattle is Dying” that seems to mirror the Bay Area’s plight. KOMO is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group which has been criticized for pushing a conservative slant to the stations it owns.
While imprisoned, instead of forcing inmates to go “cold turkey,” they are given medications like methadone that are proven to reduce withdrawals and allow them to slowly taper their dependency on them. All this is administered within the controlled environment of their prison system. “I wasn’t arrested, I was rescued,” noted one participant in the program that habitually shoplifted to support his addiction.
When inmates are released, they are enrolled in CODAC (Community Organization for Drug Abuse Control), a state-funded behavioral healthcare nonprofit that administers the MAT program before and after prison.
Graduates of their treatment program that involves counseling, job training and transitional housing have their criminal cases dismissed. This frees the formerly incarcerated from the cycle of unemployment caused by having a criminal record that can return them to the streets and addiction.
93% of MAT program participants stay in the program after leaving prison according to R.I. Department of Corrections substance abuse coordinator Lauranne Howard. Rhode Island’s MAT program is credited with reducing mortality among those with a history of incarceration by as much as 65%.
Feature Image: @ChiefTejada via Twitter.