County launches 'Hope Not Handcuffs' to help addicts

Program provides treatment options instead of prison

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 31, 2017

 Kristin Wolf, of Sterling Heights, is one of about 250 volunteer “angels” who help lead addicts to admittance into treatment facilities. It’s part of the new “Hope Not Handcuffs” program.

Kristin Wolf, of Sterling Heights, is one of about 250 volunteer “angels” who help lead addicts to admittance into treatment facilities. It’s part of the new “Hope Not Handcuffs” program.

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MACOMB COUNTY — After prescription drugs and opiates have ravaged families and society in recent years, one community has come together to offer proactive solutions.

On Jan. 31, “Hope Not Handcuffs” was officially launched in Macomb County, led by Families Against Narcotics, in partnership with the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery initiative.

Local partners include every police department in the county, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department, the Michigan State Police North Post, the Harper Woods Police Department, the Ferndale Police Department, the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse, CARE of Southeastern Michigan, Medstar Ambulance, Universal Ambulance and various treatment facilities.

A group of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials shared a stage Jan. 31 at the Clinton Township Police Department. A group of approximately 250 “angels,” who have experience combating addiction — through their own families or personal situations — volunteer to help addicts who seek help. Many were in attendance in Clinton Township.

Judge Linda Davis, of the 41-B District Court, has been fighting addiction on behalf of the Macomb County community for many years. She even battled it within her own family.

She said the process is simple: Addicts or abusers who are seeking medical help can walk into any police station or the Sheriff’s Department and ask for assistance. Instead of being arrested for drug use, which could lead to incarceration, addicts will receive help from the volunteer “angels” — who will be contacted by law enforcement officials, look at medical histories and insurance options, and then the addicts will be transported to a treatment facility.

The goal is to keep individuals within the state for treatment, but sometimes it’s about finding the most equipped center in the quickest amount of time.

“We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing with addiction,” Davis said. “It’s not working. And incarcerating these people is just a revolving door.”

She mentioned how the community as a whole has dealt with the issue of addiction “on its backside,” rather than being honest about it. She said continually giving Narcan to those who overdose, just so they can survive and continue on their path of substance abuse, is not a viable long-term solution.

She added that it’s a shame that addiction had to get so big that this endeavor had to happen.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley was present and spoke about how he served on the first task force in the state that fought against opiate addiction.

Calley thanked Davis, saying, “If you want something to move, you get (Davis) behind it.” He also called “Hope Not Handcuffs” a special opportunity because there are so many different law enforcement experts, organizations and diverse individuals working together to get people sober.

In the last decade, more than half of the people who became addicted to heroin started on prescription drugs, he said, and jail is no place to treat addiction.

“Every single person has an opportunity for redemption,” Calley said. “Every person has an opportunity to get back on track … and to stop looking at addiction like it’s a law enforcement or criminal issue, and look at it like it’s a health care issue.”

Families Against Narcotics, or FAN, Vice President Katie Donovan said her daughter suffered from seven years of heroin abuse, including 17 trips to treatment centers.

Getting help is now as simple as walking into a police station, she said. And for those who are afraid, they can call or fill out an online assessment form.

The first official cry for help occurred Jan. 27, when an addict filled out an online form, was approved for treatment within an hour and was on a flight to Arizona the next day. Three more addicts used the program Jan. 30 — including one who was administered Narcan two weeks prior and is now safely in detox.

“This is a movement,” Donovan said. “We have started a movement that I hope will continue across all of Michigan. … For those who don’t know where to go, we are reaching out to you.”

Macomb Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said the easy fix is to arrest addicts, but with the amount of law enforcement experience prevalent in the county, the goal has switched to educating the public — starting with kids in schools.

He said the program doesn’t work without the “angels.”

“This is really not new for us, as far as helping people out,” Wickersham said. “Our doors are always open 24 hours a day. We have individuals coming into our police stations or Sheriff’s Department who are homeless or need help, and we’re problem solvers.”

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said that building more jails and incarcerating more individuals is not the answer, adding that if addicts can make it to the starting line, the community will help them get to the finish line.

“We’ve all heard the statistics regarding drug abuse, and we all know the numbers regarding heroin overdoses,” Smith said. “‘Hope Not Handcuffs’ reminds us that this isn’t about the numbers or the statistics. It’s about real human beings in the grips of this awful disease and this awful affliction, and we have to do something about it.”

Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon said drug proliferation has become much worse in the community since he was first elected in 2000. He attributed it to the low cost and high potency of substances today, and the kids are the ones paying for it.

“There’s very few families that haven’t been affected by some sort of drug addiction, theft, etc.,” Cannon said. “And in my case, I don’t talk about it, but we’ve had some very serious drug issues in my family.”

Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest said those who commit a crime must face charges, but if there is a chance to help those with a drug problem before they commit a crime, not only does that prevent crime, but it treats the addiction.

“This leads to prevention of future crime, better community health, and one more person who contributes to society instead of someone who burdens society,” Verkest said. “No program can guarantee 100 percent success, but every addict we treat successfully is one step in the right direction. It has been said many times that all of us have either dealt with addiction or crime due to addiction in our families. Almost all of us also have family or friends who have successfully recovered from addiction. This program should produce more of these success stories.”

Keith Meservy, 55, of Roseville, is one of the “angels.”

His path to sobriety started in Davis’ court, where he was a 41-B Drug Court participant. He was later assigned to attend a FAN meeting. It was at that point that he became overwhelmed with the support of other individuals, and he has attended every meeting ever since. Now, Meservy is in recovery and in his 13th month of sobriety.

“It’s something that just comes within you, and you just want to give back to the community with what opportunity you never had yourself. … You have to treat each instance very differently,” Meservy said. “All I can tell is my experience and give you what worked for me. I’m not here to tell you what to do or throw you under the bus.”

For more information about “Hope Not Handcuffs” or to donate toward the cause, visit familiesagainstnarcotics.org/hopeno thandcuffs.

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