Delaware County law enforcement officials now have a new way to combat the opioid epidemic when they encounter someone dealing with addiction.
A few weeks ago, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, alongside Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, officially announced the endeavor with the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, a program dedicated to helping addicts enroll in treatment without fear of legal repercussions. The announcement makes Delaware one of nine counties across the commonwealth to incorporate this program and the first in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Under LETI policy, law enforcement agencies will open their station doors to addicts only if they express a desire to receive treatment. Officers will receive additional training in how to better assist individuals seeking help and facilitate transportation to local treatment centers should it be deemed necessary. Once the imitative is put into motion, collected data will be used to study its effectiveness.
Shapiro stressed the initiative’s role in rethinking the relationship between officers and addicts, rather than solely resorting to arrests and incarceration. He also expressed hope that the initiative would help curb the stigma attached to substance abuse disorders.
“As Pennsylvania recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget the ongoing opioid epidemic that takes the lives of 11 Pennsylvanians every day,” said Shapiro. “Connecting individuals to the treatment they need will save lives and make our communities safer.”
“LETI is a true diversion for non-violent individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system on account of drug dependency. Together with our Drug Treatment Court and the Second Chance Court, this is another tool in our toolbox to get people help that works,” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer.
The initiative first started in 2018 in Somerset County, near Pittsburgh, on the heels of a major spike in overdose deaths statewide at 2,866, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since then, the program has expanded to include the counties of Bradford, Dauphin, Northumberland, Schuylkill, Berks, Fayette, and Northumberland.
“There are so many barriers for those who decide they need help to get it. This program breaks down the walls and connects individuals to treatment,” says Janene Holter, an agent in the Attorney General’s Office who coordinates LETI drug initiatives. “Without programs like this one, individuals may continue to use because they are unsure where to even start the process of getting the assistance they need.”
In order to spread the word about the program, Holter’s office has disseminated posters about LETI throughout Delaware County and given law enforcement bookmarkers that guide them in contacting treatment center options. In terms of training law enforcement, the Office of Adjutant will work with the district attorney and the Single County Authority to train them on numerous topics such as stigma, trauma, and the complexities of substance use disorder.
According to Holter, they have seen promising results in places like Somserset County, where half of those referred have completed treatment and are in recovery. For example, in the space of an hour, a young woman approached the Somerset Police Department asking for help, and an officer connected her with a provider and she immediately entered treatment.
“Pottsville Police Department found me in a parking garage using meth and alcohol,” said Steve, one of the addicts now on a path to recovery from the program. “I told the police I wanted to clean up my life. Police then drove me to a treatment provider for an assessment. LETI changed my life forever. I was able to go to treatment instead of the ‘drunk tank’.”
But there’s a lot of work still to be done. In 2019, over 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. Every month on average, 90 Philadelphians die from a fatal overdose.
Holter says the more LETI programs established in the commonwealth, the better. “Every person who walks through the doors of a police station, probation department, or sheriff’s office seeking help and receives it is one more life this program has helped save.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction and needs assistance contacting a treatment facility, please visit the LETI website and contact Janene Holter.