Scarborough’s innovative program aimed at getting heroin addicts into treatment began Wednesday, and the town’s police chief is already calling it an apparent success.

“I think it’s been fantastic,” said Chief Robert Moulton. “We had three we helped yesterday and two today,” he said late Friday.

Scarborough last month announced an initiative, patterned after a similar program in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in which addicts who turn in their drugs and paraphernalia and seek help will be referred to drug treatment.

The initiative is in response to a surge in overdoses, some of them fatal, in Maine from heroin and from heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate. The police department has partnered with Liberty Bay Recovery Center in Portland and another treatment facility in Florida, which have agreed to make available a fixed number of “scholarship” treatment slots.

The first two candidates to seek help from the department had paperwork issues they needed to work out, said Officer John Gill, who is heading up the program for the department.

One had a spot at a Florida treatment facility but lacked the government-issued identification needed to board a commercial plane, Gill said.

By late Friday, that person had proper identification and was in a Miami treatment center, Moulton said.

Another had a previous arrest warrant that needed to be dealt with before the person could enroll in the program. Gill said it would be unfortunate for someone to be in a treatment program and then have it interrupted with an arrest on an outstanding warrant.

Moulton said the second person was cleared for a trip to the Florida facility as well.

A third person who came in Thursday needed to detox before enrolling, Moulton said.

One of the two users who came to the station Friday was put in contact with the Portland Recovery Community Center, a support organization which is partnering with the department. The other was meeting with a volunteer late Friday afternoon and a treatment slot was being arranged, Moulton said.

None of those who have come in to the station have turned in any drugs or paraphernalia, Moulton said.

In the two weeks since the program was announced, the department has fielded half a dozen inquiries, mostly from family members of users. Gill said it’s important that someone in recovery have those support systems in place, but the decision to get clean has to be made by the user.

The department connected the families with the Portland Recovery Community Center, he said.

Scarborough’s program is modeled after the Angel initiative underway in Gloucester, in which trained volunteers meet with a user seeking help, to walk the person through the initial steps of getting help.

Access to treatment could be the Scarborough program’s biggest obstacle, since there are few such programs in Maine. Advocates hope the department’s partnership with the Gloucester-based Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which has agreements with 40 treatment centers in 17 states, could help.

Moulton says the approach isn’t just compassionate, it’s sensible policy.

In the past year, the town has experienced one fatal overdose and 10 emergencies in which people overdosing needed to be resuscitated. Police estimate that 80 percent to 85 percent of the town’s crimes, such as robberies and burglaries, are related to addiction.


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