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Opioid epidemic: LaPorte chief says we can't 'arrest our way out of this'

The opioid drug epidemic has hit the city of LaPorte hard.

Over the past few weeks, they've experienced a string of serious overdoses. Effects are resonating through the community, and people want to do something about it.

Now, law enforcement is expanding a program (PAATH - Public Safety Assisted Access to Treatment and Health) to help drug addicts kick their habits for good. It encourages opioid addicts to seek help. Members in the community want to intervene before overdoses happen and take lives.

The police department and three fire departments in town say their doors are open 24/7 for users who want to get back on track.

When a person comes in to ask for assistance, officers and firefighters will assign that person to what they're calling a trained volunteer "angel." They're members of the community who are willing to give their time to help others. They will meet with the addict and help guide them to get them on the road to recovery.

Now, at least 30 of these volunteer “angels” from all walks of life are giving help. They're business owners, stay at home moms, stay home dads, retired people, and recovering addicts.

The LaPorte Police Department recognizes that some people are not comfortable with police, and that's why they joined forces with the fire department. They say this gives people a greater opportunity to come in for treatment.

They want people to know, addicts who come in to seek treatment will NOT be arrested.

"We're not going to be able to arrest our way out of this," says Adam Klimczak, LaPorte chief of police. "It's a mental health issue and it needs to be treated as such. So if these people come in and are seeking help -- we're not going to ask them where they got the drugs, we're not going to press them for information. We are simply going to pair them with a volunteer angel who is going to guide them through the proper steps for treatment."

Angels will help addicts get signed up for what public benefits and resources are available.

There is just a small administrative cost to make this program work, but it's really driven by volunteers.

Chief Klimczak says, “We’ll make 100 phone calls if we have to. We'll give them a ride. We’ll make sure that they get to the place. We’ll help them overcome those obstacles, somehow find treatment that's right for them."

Officials say collaboration between police and the fire department is key in removing barriers to seeking treatment.

Law enforcement and first responders want people to know there are safe places to start the healing process.

LaPorte Fire Dept. Chief Andy Snyder says, "People are more likely to come to the fire stations than police departments just because of the concept or the idea of more of a caregiver type."

The fire department responds to drug overdoses with the LaPorte County EMS. The increasing amount of overdoses and resuscitations is proving to be a challenge for them. This program allows them to intervene before crisis moments instead of after they happen.

Chief Snyder says, "If we can have even just a few saves of people – pointing them in the right direction rather than seeing them in the overdose, we will consider it a tremendous win for us."

"The police aren't going to be able to solve this themselves," says Chief Klimczak. "We need everybody involved -- mental health providers, our local hospitals, our community volunteers, our schools, politicians, everybody has to be involved to try to get this under control."

The city of LaPorte is the first in Indiana to use this program.

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