TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The opioid crisis is widespread across the U.S. and now Tucson police are training for a program that they hope can change that.
Over 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, and in Pima County fatal overdoses have been the No. 1 cause of death for the past three years. In an effort to combat that Tucson police have started a referral and treatment program aimed at helping those who want to stop using.
The Tucson Police Department began training for the program with the help of CODAC on Thursday, June 21.
TPD and CODAC have joined for the program, along with a few other groups including Cenpatico, hoping to decrease the number of fatal overdoses and opioid addicted people in the area.
"This is a big deal. People are dying a lot," TPD Assistant Chief Kevin Hall said of opioids.
TPD realized simply arresting drug users wasn't working, so about 18 months ago Hall began working on the treatment and referral program.
He says his goal with the program is to reduce the number of fatal overdoses in Pima County and to stop property crime associated with drug abuse.
According to Hall, almost all property crime in Tucson is a result of an addict trying to steal money or items to help fuel their addiction. And with the frequent rate at which TPD officers run into those addicts, Hall says they'll be able to identify who is ready to get help through the program.
"Our officers, because they deal with it on a daily basis and they deal with the same folks over and over, they see the downward turn," Hall said. "They see the people cycling down and down and they realize at some point, 'Now they're ready.'"
With the new program, opioid addicts have two options. They can self-refer, meaning they turn in their drugs and paraphernalia and enter the program. Or a TPD officer can give them the option to enter the program after encountering them in the community and seeing that they have an opioid-use disorder.
"You can walk in the door and say, 'I'm done. I don't wanna get high anymore. I wanna turn my life around,'" CODAC VP of Nursing Stephanie Green said.
When it comes to paying for the program there's some good news for the taxpayer - TPD says it's cost-neutral. For those seeking the program's services that need insurance, CODAC will help you get an access to a plan. If you aren't eligible, CODAC has grant funds that can offset the cost of programming.
The program starts on July 1 and will run through a 6-month pilot cycle at both the midtown and west-side divisions.