There has been a paradigm shift in how law enforcement is handling the opioid crisis in North Carolina.
According to Carrboro police captain Chris Atack, this is a shift from punishing addicts to, in some cases, saving their lives.
“I think the opioids have kind of given us a window to shift our paradigm a little bit,” said Atack. “Law enforcement can have more of a direct role in actually helping people in the medical crisis.”
Nowhere is this paradigm shift put into practice more clearly than through Coordinated Opioid Overdose Reduction Effort, or the COORE program.
The COORE program was started by Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood, and it allows people with opioid addictions to walk into the sheriff’s office, put their opioids and paraphernalia into a medicine dropbox and be directly escorted to a treatment facility free of charge and without being arrested.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said arresting people with addiction is like arresting someone that suffers from obesity or other illnesses.
“We don’t imprison people for other illnesses, like heart disease,” said Stein. “In fact, we provide medical care to them. Yet, only a fraction, one out of 10 people, with addiction last year got any kind of effective treatment.”
Naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, is now commonplace among police officers in Orange County and is spreading in popularity across North Carolina. It’s part of what Emergency Medical Services operations manager Kim Woodward called a harm-reduction strategy for the opioid crisis.
She said the next step in that strategy is giving people with addiction clean needles.
“With this opioid crisis, we’re seeing a resurgence of Hepatitis C and HIV,” said Woodward. “We want folks to realize that it’s not just the overdose that we’re concerned about, it’s the other ramifications of sharing dirty needles or coming into contact with these conditions.”
Atack said that needle-exchange programs, just like naloxone, will become part of law enforcement’s method of handling the opioid crisis soon enough.
“I think when we look at this and we see syringe exchange, I think in four years everyone will be on board with that from the law enforcement prospective because we get it,” said Atack. “It’s the harm-reduction philosophy.”
This whole conversation can be heard on the WCHL Community Forum.