- Associated Press - Sunday, July 1, 2018

YORK, Pa. (AP) - It was always there, something that came with the job.

Every day, police officers encountered people in the throes of addiction, whether was alcohol or drugs, and it had a tendency to harden attitudes.

Then, in the past four or five years, things started to change, with more and more police encounters involving people with heroin addiction.

“It just seemed to explode,” said Sgt. Richard Thompson of the Springettsbury Township police.

Whether it was arresting a person caught shoplifting or a family dispute or an overdose, it seemed hardly a day would pass without a police officer encountering opioid addiction.

When the department was getting naloxone, Thompson recalled, the officers watched a training video to learn how to administer it. At the end of the video, an officer handed the person pamphlets and spoke about recovery. Thompson thought, “We don’t have anything like that.”

Around the same time, he had a friend of the family whose son had died from an overdose. Reading the obituary, he learned about a group called “Not One More” and called the local chapter’s founders to set up a meeting. The founders went beyond that. They arranged a meeting between the police and a group of recovering addicts.

Thompson said he was somewhat apprehensive about the meeting. The police and addicts didn’t always have a good relationship. In the past, many of officers’ encounters with addicts resulted in police putting somebody in handcuffs.

But the meeting - police officers at one side of the table and recovering addicts at the other - went well. The recovering addicts told their stories, how they became addicted, how their addiction grew out of control, how they wanted to stop but were powerless over the drug. One of the recovering addicts was the son of a cop. He says he thought, “That could be my kid

“I started to change my viewpoint,” he said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Thompson asked the former drug users what they could as police officers do to help. The answer surprised him. “Keep enforcing the law,” they said.

Another answer wasn’t so much a surprise. “Treat us like human beings,” they said.

It has changed how the department deals with addicts. They ask more questions, and not just police questions. They show that they care and that they are there to help., he said.

It’s hard to tell whether it’s working. “You never know,” Thompson said. “You know it can’t hurt.”

Vickie Glatfelter, president of the local chapter of “Not One More” said Springettsbury Township was the first local police department to take the organization up on its offer to meet. “Law enforcement sees a different side of the issue,” she said. “I think it’s working.”

A few weeks ago, a young man and his girlfriend stopped by the police station and asked for Thompson. The man asked his girlfriend, “Is that the guy?” She said it was.

Not long ago, Thompson had revived the man with naloxone when he had overdosed in a parking lot. He followed up at the hospital and spoke to his girlfriend and told her how to get help.

The young man told Thompson he had gone into recovery, and he thanked Thompson for saving his life.

“It gives you a lot of hope,” Thompson said. “People do get better.”


Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com

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