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March 09, 2016

Upper Darby police debut program connecting heroin addicts to rehab

Program aims to transform police station into a safe haven

Drugs Addiction
Chitwood Micozzie heroin change is possible John Kopp/PhillyVoice

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood, left, and Mayor Thomas Micozzie announce 'Change is Possible,' a new program designed to connect individuals struggling with substance abuse to rehab facilities.

Upper Darby residents struggling with substance abuse now can seek help at the police department thanks to a new program launched Wednesday in the Delaware County township.

Through the "Change is Possible" program, police will connect residents battling addiction to Gaudenzia Inc., a treatment and recovery provider operating 147 drug and alcohol treatment programs across Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

The purpose is to help loosen the grip drug addiction holds in Upper Darby by transforming the police station into a safe haven for individuals caught up in addiction, Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood said. Police do drug enforcement and education well, Chitwood said, but now are taking a greater role in rehabilitation efforts.

The program was created to combat the heroin epidemic sweeping much of the nation, but Chitwood said police will offer assistance to residents struggling with any type of substance abuse.

"There is a place for anybody who has any type of addiction," Chitwood said. "It's a safe haven. ... We're an open department. They can come in, request help and we will reach out and seek that help for them. Period.

"There's no caveat to that," he added. "If you need help, we're here to help."

Residents will not be subjected to criminal charges unless they are found in possession of a controlled substance or have an outstanding warrant, Chitwood said.

Gaudenzia will assist individuals to determine what coverage their private health insurance or Medicaid provides. If lacking health insurance, Gaudenzia will seek funding through county and state programs already available.

The program is the latest effort to combat the opiate addiction that has plagued many municipalities, including Upper Darby.

Township officials recorded 200 drug overdoses last year, including 123 from heroin and another 35 from prescription pills. Twenty deaths were heroin-related.

Police and emergency responders are now equipped with Narcan, an overdose antidote becoming more widely carried – and used – by police across the country. Upper Darby police and emergency responders administered Narcan 63 times in 2015, recording 54 saves.

"The No. 1 war in America right now is drug addiction," Mayor Thomas Micozzie said. "We're killing the fiber of our communities. If you look at the statistics, it's not only our youth – it's the middle-aged accountant, it's the housewife who suddenly had a dental problem and got hooked up on opioids."

Individuals seeking help can stop by the police station on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., though Chitwood said those hours eventually could expand. A police officer will perform a background check and contact a Gaudenzia representative, who will facilitate transportation to an appropriate treatment facility.

"What we want to do is get people early," Gaudenzia President Michael Harle said. "If you wait after they've gone to the penitentiary or after they overdosed four or five times, it's not as easy as it is to get them when they're young. That's hopefully what the program will do.

"It will be a place where somebody can come, start the process. We will have people available to move people to the next level."

Individuals displaying signs of withdrawal will immediately be transported to Delaware County Memorial Hospital for treatment. People under the age of 18 who seek assistance must have the consent of a parent or guardian.

"This is about saving lives," Chitwood said. "My philosophy is, if we can save one life, we've accomplished those things."