Above: Judge Linda Davis presents a program about Hope Not Handcuffs.
Jackie Headapohl Managing Editor
Police departments to provide a pathway to treatment for addicts.
People dealing with addiction in Macomb County who run afoul of the law have a chance at staying out of jail thanks to a program launched last February called Hope Not Handcuffs, modeled after a similar one in Massachusetts.
The initiative was started by Families Against Narcotics, and its goal is to bring law enforcement and community organizations together to find treatment options for addicts.
People struggling with drug addiction can come to a participating police agency and ask for help. They will be greeted with support, compassion and respect. If accepted into the program, the individual will be guided through a brief intake process to ensure proper treatment placement.
Judge Linda Davis, a district court judge for the 41B District Court in Macomb County since 2000, started Families Against Narcotics 11 years ago. There are now 20 chapters in Michigan and one in North Carolina. “We’re hoping that each one of our chapters will launch Hope Not Handcuffs in their own communities,” Davis said.
West Bloomfield defense attorney Amy Wechsler learned about the program and has joined forces with Davis to help bring Hope Not Handcuffs to Oakland County. Affiliated with Temple Israel, Wechsler lives in Sylvan Lake with her husband, Don. She recently announced her candidacy for 48th District Court Judge.
“A lot of my clients are opioid addicted, and I was trying to find resources for them and noticed there weren’t that many,” Wechsler said. “My clients were going to jail and were reoffending when they came out. Some of them overdosed and died, and I knew that something had to be done.”
She came across Hope Not Handcuffs doing research and met with Davis.
“I said, ‘Why aren’t these programs in Oakland County?’ The judge said, ‘Set up a meeting with a couple of police chiefs.’”
That’s what Wechsler did. She gathered 20 police chiefs at a meeting in late February at Keego Harbor City Hall. “We got commitments from 11 departments thus far and more to come!”
HOW IT WORKS
According to Davis, many police departments in Macomb County jumped on board “because they know how bad the opioid crisis is and are tired of watching neighborhood kids they know die,” she said. “Now we get calls from officers who stop an addict with a needle in his arm and instead of arresting him, the officer calls us. The addict is given a choice to get treatment.”
There are exceptions, the judge noted. A felony or domestic violence warrant, being a danger to others, under 18 without parent or guardian consent or a medical condition that may need hospitalization may make someone ineligible for the program.
Hope Not Handcuffs works directly with the local Office of Substance Abuse Services or a person’s private insurance for placement into treatment as soon as possible. In Macomb County, more than 200 volunteer “angels” help with paperwork and provide compassionate support until a treatment option is found.
Angels can work from one hour a week to one hour a month. It’s up to each volunteer. Ideally, angels arrive to help within 15 minutes of the initial phone call, so those who are geographically close to a police department are always welcome.
Addicts who are afraid to walk into a police department can go online and fill out the application and an angel will contact them.
“We have one angel, a woman who lost her son after we started the program,” Davis says, “and she said it’s the most therapeutic thing she’s ever done for herself. She says knowing she couldn’t save her own child, but maybe being able to save someone else’s child is really healing for her.”
Once somebody enters the program, he or she continues to be monitored. “Our angels stay in touch with you while you’re in recovery and as you come out of recovery,” Davis said. “Many alumni of the program meet each week to stay connected to a recovery community.”
THE OPIOID CRISIS
The opioid epidemic is one of the largest crises our country has ever faced. “Programs like this are allowing communities to come together to fight it and to heal,” Davis says.
According to Wechsler, many addicts turn to crime to fund their addiction. “My client’s are primarily committing theft crimes to fund their addiction,” she says. “I’m watching these people go to jail and come out expected to be sober; but they were never taught how to be sober.”
According to Davis, “Addiction is not a moral failing; it’s a disease. Every study tells us that it is. In Macomb County, it costs $90 a day to jail someone. For what? So that they can go back out and use again? It’s better to take that money and put it into treatment and services for the person who’s sick.
“We don’t punish people who have cancer and go back out and smoke,” she adds. “We still give them treatment. We don’t punish people who have diabetes and eat pumpkin pie and go into diabetic shock. We treat them because we know humans fail. Addicts should be treated the same.”
According to Wechsler, the cost to jail someone in Oakland County is $105 per day. “We need to shift our spending to accommodate treatment for those who need it,” she says.
“The opioid crisis in Oakland County is in the thick of it,” Wechsler says.
Hope Not Handcuffs is in place in Ferndale, Holly and Troy and is coming soon to Clawson, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Huntington Woods, Madison Heights, Royal Oak, South Lyon, Southfield, Waterford, White Lake, Wixom and West Bloomfield.
West Bloomfield recently filed the applications to join the program and should get it launched “fairly soon,” says Police Chief Michael Patton. “We’ve seen how the program has impacted overdose deaths in other areas of the U.S and in Macomb County, and we’re on board.”
Patton, who’s been an officer for more than 30 years, said he noticed about four years ago an increase in heroin overdoses in the city. “From the spring of 2014 until now, West Bloomfield has had more than 40 heroin-related overdoses, 12 of which have been fatal,” he said. “In that same time, we haven’t had four homicides or four fatal car crashes to put it in perspective.”
The criminal justice system fills a very narrow niche in society, he adds. “It’s generally acknowledged that law enforcement alone can’t solve the opioid crisis. Addiction is a disease and needs to be handled that way. People need to realize they need help. We’re happy to provide an avenue for that in West Bloomfield.”
For Hope Not Handcuffs to work at its best, treatment-oriented judges are required.
Several Oakland County District Courts run treatment courts, including the 43rd in Ferndale, the 47th in Farmington Hills, the 51st in Waterford, 52-1 in Novi, 52-2 in Clarkston and 52-3 in Rochester. The 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills, which includes the heart of the Jewish community in Bloomfield, West Bloomfield, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake Village and Sylvan Lake, runs what Judge Kimberly Small calls a “Recovery Court” and has been for 20 years.
“Helping people with drug and alcohol addictions get into recovery is good for the community as a whole,” Small says. “It has a ripple effect for society.”
Chief Judge of the 48th District Court Diane D’Agostini agrees. “The 48th District Court has been persistent in its use of treatment programs without seeking additional tax dollars, and the programs continue to be successful,” she says.
Small has long been passionate about addiction prevention. She is involved in educating youth with programs like Cool to Be Clean and Critical Life Choices, which she has presented to more than 20,000 young people.
“I see my role as a judge as twofold,” Small says. “First and foremost, my job is to protect the public. Second, I also use my position to help people by putting them on a more empowering path than the one that led to my doorstep.
“I’m glad that West Bloomfield will be launching Hope Not Handcuffs,” Small adds. “Having another conduit for people to get help is great for the community.”
The first Oakland County training for Hope Not Handcuffs took place in late March. Angel volunteers are now being recruited and receiving training. White Lake is ready to launch. According to Patton, West Bloomfield should be a month or so behind them.
To date, more than 1,100 Hope Not Handcuffs participants are getting the help they need. As more police departments in Oakland County get their programs launched, that number should rise exponentially.
Want To Help?
Oakland County is launching the Hope Not Handcuffs in several police departments. The program needs supplies for their angel kits. The angel kits consist of comfort items for when participants arrive at the police station. They need blankets, water, mints or other hard candy, gum, crackers, granola bars, chips, female hygiene products, male care items, etc. If you are interested in donating items, contact Lisa at (586) 855-4701.
To register to become an angel volunteer, go to familiesagainstnarcotics.org/hopenothandcuffs-angel.