Help, Not Handcuffs: A New Way To Respond To The Opioid Crisis In Massachusetts

Police officer John Cacela of Ware, Massachusetts, at left, with Emily Ligawiec at a pottery class where they touch base on her recovery from a drug overdose.
Credit Karen Brown / NEPR

As opioid abuse continues unabated, drug users often stay under the radar until it’s too late. 

Health leaders are developing ways not just to get them help, but to keep them alive until they’re ready to get sober.

In one approach gaining traction around Massachusetts, police officers are trained to reach out to drug users after a crisis — from an overdose to a drug-related crime — and offer them help. That could mean a warm bed for the night or a ride to detox.

But more often than not, the drug user is not ready to accept that help.

So officers are learning patience, persistence, and the ups and down of addiction, while health and policy leaders grapple with how to measure success.

NEPR's Karen Brown takes a look at how police officers and drug users are adapting to "post-overdose outreach," how the work of recovery coaches fits into the process, and how researchers and policy makers are judging its effectiveness. 

Part one: "Police In Western Mass. Keep Knocking On Drug Users' Doors Until They're Ready For Help"

Part two: "Recovery Coaches Offer Nonjudgmental Support To Fill Addiction Treatment Gaps"

Part three: "As People Die From Overdoses, Health Leaders And Police Struggle To Measure Success"

Part four: "As Post-Overdose Outreach Expands In Western Mass., Springfield's Role Unclear"

Extra story: "A Former Drug User Recalls 'The Day I Got Sober'"

Croix Paquette, pictured at right, is in recovery and works with the DART program.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Croix Paquette is a Tennessee native and a natural storyteller. One story he often tells is about the last day he used drugs.

Police officers attend a Drug Addiction and Recovery Team kickoff event for Hampden County cities and towns.
Karen Brown / NEPR

A program in Massachusetts that offers help to drug users, as an alternative to arrests, started in Hampshire County. The Drug Addiction and Recovery Team (DART) is now moving into Hampden County. But police in Springfield aren’t taking part, and there’s little information about what they are doing for overdose survivors.

Croix Paquette, at left, is in recovery from drug addiction. He works with Sheryl Holmes, at right, who lost her son to an overdose.
Karen Brown / NEPR

You might not expect Sheryl Holmes to be among those who consider the Drug Addiction and Recovery Team (DART) a success. Less than a month after a DART officer with the Belchertown police first made contact with her family, her son Caleb, 18, died of an overdose.

DART recovery coach Susan Daley, at left, with DART client Charlie Lopez.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Charlie Lopez and Susan Daley meet most Wednesday evenings at the Nest, a recovery meeting room in Belchertown, Massachusetts.

Emily Ligawiec at a recovery center in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where she's been living.
Karen Brown / NEPR

Emily Ligawiec, 29, has to sign visitors in to her recovery program in a grand Victorian house run by the Gandara Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts.