- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - President Donald Trump’s acting drug czar came to Phoenix on Wednesday to tout an Arizona program that asks addicts to turn in their drugs at the local police department and get treatment without fear of being arrested.

Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Richard Baum joined state and law enforcement officials at the state capitol to bring attention to a six-month-old pilot program designed to address the opioid epidemic.

The program is being rolled out in a Phoenix neighborhood that has had problems with drug use.

“We have to move away from these either or solutions, we need everybody working together,” Baum said. “Through this program police officers are helping people struggling with addiction by connecting them to treatment rather than jail.”

But the commander of the local police precinct acknowledged people have been reluctant about coming forward to police. About 10 people have come to the precinct seeking help since the initiative began, said Maryvale Estrella Mountain Precinct Commander Ed DeCastro.

“We want people to know and trust us that they can come in and there are no repercussions … so that’s part of this whole process is getting the community to start to trust us in that way,” DeCastro said.

According to Debbie Moak, director of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family, community policing efforts and local nonprofits have led hundreds of people to get help for substance abuse, even as a small number of people come forward on their own.

The program does not accept fugitives or those with prior or pending criminal charges for crimes involving violence, arson, sexual offenses, children or elderly people.

People who drop off their drugs are then given treatment at a Phoenix center.

William Anthony Rich said he was awakened by a police officer and case manager last year in a park and asked if he wanted help. They then took him to the rehab center where he got treatment.

Rich said without the program, his addiction could have led him to still be on the streets, or end up dead or in jail the rest of his life.

Baum said Trump has made addressing the opioid epidemic a top priority, which led him to create the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Baum said the effort to combat the opioid epidemic is not new, but the Trump administration plans to put more resources into it.

“We are in sort of a new era where the public and the media and the Congress and all the states, people understand that this is a real crisis … this is a truly a national epidemic,” Baum said.

Baum is Trump’s acting drug czar but Republican leaders say a longer-term replacement could be taking over soon. GOP U.S. Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania has been said to be the top candidate for the job.

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