Angels in uniform

Published 10:56 am Thursday, May 3, 2018

Kudos goes out today to everyone involved in the Ashland Police Department’s new Angel Program, which allows for an alternative to arrest and incarceration for those struggling with addiction.

Those addicted to drugs can surrender any illegal items, drugs or paraphernalia to the department. A mentor or “Angel” will then connect them with a local treatment facility.

“This program has one goal, saving lives,” Police Chief Todd Kelley said.

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Is this going to solve all of the region’s problems with drugs? Of course not. Is the program likely to be heavily used??Time will tell.

We do know that it would be easy to approach this with a cynical viewpoint, i.e. the perception that everyone struggling with prolific addictions will only get clean when they are locked up for extended periods of time and that this is the only way to drive home that society will not tolerate their situation. This, on paper, is certainly a logical presumption. The problem is we’ve been doing this for decades and it isn’t working. Our jails are ridiculously overcrowded to the point of bursting at the seams yet the drug problem continues to get worse. It is, unfortunately, also the truth for a segment of the population that incarceration is necessary. The reality for some drug dealers and addicts is incarceration, whether we like it or not, ends up being the last and only viable option for getting these individuals away from society.

But that option should, in our view, only be used when all other options have failed.

All of this highlights the immensely complex problem that requires immensely complex, multi-prongued solutions in a world where public resources and leadership for tackling the problem are increasingly limited. We believe this Angel Initiative is a viable and admirable effort that really does have the potential to work and work well. It seems to us that it will work for those who truly want help and who are scared of dealing with the police in any form because they don’t want to go to jail.

It is our belief that when you strip away the despair and fog of addiction, most struggling are usually good people deep down inside. When given a helping hand, it is possible to help them. Sometimes, people change, and this program is for those people. Our view is to truly solve this problem it is going to take leadership from the president, the federal government and significant resources to back it up — not just declarations and press conferences. It also requires extensive education about the true outcomes of lives addicted to heroin and other hard drugs. It requires communities to come together to help their fellow citizenry with an approach that requires compassion and patience like what is demonstrated through this program from Ashland police and with the help of Pathways.

A key component is going to have to be finding a way to get people treatment for free or for very low cost. We take calls time and again at the newspaper from folks who have family members struggling with addiction but who have an extremely hard time finding treatment that is affordable. This is a huge part of the conundrum, and we don’t know what to tell them.

This is a struggle likely to last generations. What we can say today is that the Ashland Police Department and all those involved in establishing this program have the community’s support in such a noble and meaningful endeavor.

The Daily Independent of Ashland