Law enforcement agencies on the front lines of addiction treatment programs – Daily Local

Law enforcement, emergency responders, and criminal justice professionals recognize that most drug addicts do not see themselves as criminals.

They don’t wake up in the morning dreaming of elaborate schemes, planning their crimes like the mastermind, modern-day Professor Moriarty, who seeks to outwit the police and gain wealth and power. Rather, they begin their days looking for a way to find enough money to pay for the drugs or alcohol that keep them in their grip. Sometimes that means committing a crime.

And those on the front lines of fighting crime – the police, correctional officers, prosecutors – understand that this addiction is almost impossible to break. Locking up addicts who steal or shoplift to feed their habits does little to solve the mystery of addiction and cure the criminal impulse.

It’s a lesson Steve Forzato has learned over the years and one he’s now trying to pass on to other law enforcement officers: treatment is more likely to stop drug addicts from committing crimes than prison and punishment.

“During my career in law enforcement, arrest was the way to go,” the 30-plus-year-old former Montgomery County detective and state attorney general said in a recent interview about his current job with the Center for Addiction and Recovery Education at St. Joseph’s University . “But now I know that we simply cannot stop our way out of this crisis. We have to deal with addiction differently.

“What I want to focus on right now is education,” he said as he prepared to begin another rainy session in his work with CARE, this time with Union County Child Protection Specialists. “If I understood more about treatment and how to talk to someone with an active addiction, I would have helped a lot more people.

“I helped some, but I could have helped more,” Forzato said.

The work of Forzato and others at CARE dovetails with policies and protocols adopted in Chester County and other state jurisdictions through the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, a program of the state Attorney General’s Office, the state Department of Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Centers. The program allows residents seeking addiction treatment to use local law enforcement — including state and local police, sheriffs, probation and parole officers, and corrections officers — as a resource to connect with treatment partners without threat arrest or conviction.

Forzato explains that it is the professionals who see the addicts in their communities up close and personal, and therefore know best who needs treatment, rather than those who are still prone to breaking the law. And he said he hasn’t found a more receptive audience for the center’s messages than in Chester County, thanks in part to the support the program has received from District Attorney Deb Ryan.

“Although my work is statewide and national, Chester County has been my home since 2018″ — he and his wife, Nicole Forzato, have lived in Easttown since 2018 — so I pay special attention to my community, where nearly 7,000 residents suffer from psychoactive disorders,” he said. “Most of the more than 100 fatal drug overdoses in Chester County each year involve opioids, and especially fentanyl, which makes street substance use particularly dangerous.”

(Nicole Forzato is one of the new District Court judges who took office in July.)

“As a training partner for District Attorney Ryan’s LETI program, we educate police and other professionals on how they can better serve the people of Chester County,” Forzato said. He noted that Ryan, who started the LETI program in March, has attended each of the three training sessions the center has held in the county.

Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan

“It’s unique,” he said. “And when the police look at her and see how much she’s committed, they say, ‘I should probably listen.’ “

Last month, Ryan discussed her support for the LETI program.

“I’m very involved because I really think we’re saving lives and working to fight this drug epidemic,” she said in an interview in her office at the county justice center. The trainings provide “an in-depth and intelligent overview of why this program is necessary and what happens when someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. And how it can ruin someone’s life.

Ryan said she was impressed by the work of those who care to explain the addiction process — citing in particular coordinator Brian McCauley, a former detective in Montgomery County and Philadelphia. “I think I learned a lot about the struggle and the journey that every person goes through. It’s very different and lets you know that the treatment doesn’t necessarily work the first time. Some people relapse.

But that doesn’t mean they deserve jail time,” she said. “There are some people you deal with in the criminal justice system who should be treated rather than locked up. We should not punish. We want to help save lives and reduce crime.”

The way the LETI program works in Chester County is not a get out of jail free card. Individual officers may offer drug addicts they come in contact with the opportunity to complete treatment in exchange for not pressing charges or later dropping them. Or addicts can contact those in law enforcement for a referral. Only those charged with minor, non-violent, offenses are eligible.

Ryan said the county appears to be at the forefront of the LETI movement. Since March, there have been 30 referrals by police or others to the program, of which 23 were accepted for treatment and only four declined.

“I’ve talked to police and law enforcement leaders, and they all understand that this is an issue that we need to be a little more creative about,” she said. “What we’ve been doing has worked to some extent — we have great treatment courts, we have medication days and medication boxes. But we need to do more.

“Everyone supports this program,” she said. “There’s been an overwhelmingly positive response to it because law enforcement knows it’s needed. They see it day in and day out. They see people who they know need help, and they know that locking them up won’t change their behavior.”

To reach staff writer Michael P. Relahan, call 610-696-1544.

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