Arrest or treat? Police say addicts need help

By Evan Goodenow -





Fearing arrest, drug addicts often avoid police.

But at least one Lorain County police department is a safe haven for addicts seeking treatment and two others are considering offering similar help.

Amherst police chief Joe Kucirek said his officers won’t arrest addicts who go to the police department seeking treatment even if they are carrying drugs or drug paraphernalia.

Instead, they’ll try to get addicts drug treatment. Kucirek said officers have discretion about making arrests although they would arrest addicts who arrive at the department with outstanding warrants.

So far the policy is untested. Kucirek, who joined the APD in 1988, said there is no history of addicts going to his department seeking treatment, but they would be welcome to.

“We will do what we can to get them the help or the treatment that they need,” he said.

There is little drug treatment available in Lorain County and Kucirek said the resources of the department, which has 22 full-time officers and seven part-timers, are limited, but officers would try to help.

Police are aware addiction in Amherst, with a population of about 12,000 people, is widespread.

LifeCare Ambulance responded to 195 overdoses last year, the third-highest number among communities covered by the company in the county, according to five president Herb de la Porte. In addition to Amherst, LifeCare covers Lorain and Elyria, the most populous cities here.

This year, LifeCare has responded to 64 overdoses as of March 1.

Kucirek said the treatment assistance is an informal policy and the department hasn’t joined the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, an effort begun last year by the Gloucester, Mass., police department.

The initiative includes 93 law enforcement agencies nationally including four police departments in Ohio.

Some 400 addicts seeking treatment have gone to 56 police departments that are initiative members since the program began, the New York Times reported in January. Besides helping find treatment for addicts, the initiative raises money to distribute life-saving drugs to revive overdose victims, including naloxone, a nasal spray.

Wellington police chief Tim Barfield said his department is considering joining the initiative.

He plans to meet soon with Lodi police chief Keith Keough, whose department joined the initiative in November. “Even though were are small community, we, like numerous other cities and towns throughout the nation, have seen the devastating effects addiction can have on our residents,” Keough said in a Nov. 18 initiative news release.

Despite a population of just 4,800, Wellington has an addiction problem.

The village has had three fatal overdoses since November. Last year, the South Lorain County Ambulance District — which serves Wellington and Wellington Township as well as Brighton, Huntington, Penfield and Rochester townships and Rochester Village — responded to 22 overdoses, two of them fatal, according to Dave Knapp, district director.

Barfield, hired in 2014, said consideration of joining the initiative is part of efforts by the 17-officer department to encourage addicts to seek treatment. He said enforcement continues to be part of the WPD’s efforts to reduce drug abuse, but “we’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”

However, Oberlin police chief Juan Torres said sometimes arresting addicts forces them to get treatment.

Oberlin, with about 8,200 residents, is served by the Central Lorain County Ambulance District. Ed Greenwald, district coordinator, said information on how many overdoses the district responded to in Oberlin last year would not be available by press time.

Torres, hired in August, said he was unaware of the initiative, but the 18-officer department would consider joining it.

“I’m open to looking at any strategy outside the box,” he said. “Anything that gets people treatment.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.




By Evan Goodenow