On Wednesday March 29, 2017 I traveled to Washington DC with members of PAARI to continue our conversation with Congressional leaders about the opioid crisis our country is facing. This trip was a little bittersweet, since my good friend and colleague Keene Police Chief Brian Costa was not able to attend. He passed away on March 9, 2017. Below is a press release by PAARI about our visit.
P.A.A.R.I. Members Travel to D.C. to Speak to Congress About Continued Funding for Opioid Addiction and Recovery
WASHINGTON — The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) is pleased to announce that Co-founder and Chairman John Rosenthal and Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade led a contingent of law enforcement leaders on a trip to Washington, D.C. this morning to participate in a roundtable discussion with six U.S. Senators about the importance of continued affordable access to treatment for those suffering from a substance use disorder.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) hosted the roundtable at 1:30 p.m. in light of President Donald Trump’s recent budget plan, which cuts the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent, and in turn, would remove essential funding for treatment and recovery services for those suffering from the disease of addiction.
Law enforcement officials from around the nation joined Rosenthal and Hunter McDade for the discussion, and they shared their own stories of joining P.A.A.R.I. and implementing addiction recovery programs in their cities and towns. Such initiatives have had an overwhelmingly positive impact on communities by giving residents options for treatment over incarceration or death.
“The opioid crisis is having a devastating impact on our nation’s families and it is putting a strain on law enforcement and first responders who are on the front lines of keeping our communities safe,” Sen. Casey said. “Members of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative recognize that we cannot arrest ourselves out of this epidemic. We must help people seek treatment so that they can get on the road to recovery. I am committed to doing everything in my power to fight this epidemic and support law enforcement agencies by increasing health insurance coverage and the amount of funding for treatment services.”
Last year, P.A.A.R.I. played a critical role in securing a $1 billion investment in opioid treatment through the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, which will be significantly curtailed if not paired with health insurance coverage.
Severe cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services could impact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This would make the work of police officers and first responders, who are on the front lines of the opioid crisis, all the more difficult. Despite a $1 billion investment to tackle the opioid crisis contained in the 21st Century Cures Act, budget cuts could wipe out any resource gains.
“Overdose deaths now exceed automobile fatalities each year and it’s critical that Congress increases funding for proven long-term treatment options that save lives, reduce costs and rebuild trust between police and their communities,” Rosenthal said. “In the absence of critical health care funding, which treats addiction like every other chronic disease, recovery will be all the more difficult across the nation.”
Congress is currently debating policies that could reduce the coverage for individuals with substance use disorders and undermine efforts to expand the availability of treatment. Researchers estimate that repealing the Affordable Care Act – including the Medicaid expansion and requirements for coverage of mental health and substance use disorder treatment benefits – will cut $5.5 billion from mental health and substance use services.
“I am pleased to be here in D.C. with P.A.A.R.I.’s law enforcement leaders from across the country to discuss Medicaid’s essential role in treatment access within and beyond their pre-arrest programs,” Hunter McDade said. “I am grateful to our members for coming to D.C. to share their perspectives and grateful to the members of Congress who are meeting with us throughout the day. I am confident that bringing the voice of law enforcement into these important conversations will help lead to federal policies that improve access to treatment.”
Throughout the day, Rosenthal and Hunter McDade also met with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, and Congressman Stephen Lynch to further discuss a need for Medicaid and health insurance for all, which would ensure that those struggling with addiction receive the treatment they need to recover.
Rosenthal and Hunter McDade were joined by a group of P.A.A.R.I. members, including:
East Bridgewater, Mass. Police Chief Scott Allen
Olmsted Township, Ohio Police Chief Matt Vanyo
Berea Ohio Police Chief Joseph Grecol
Berwick Borough, Pa. Police Chief Kenneth Strish
Cheshire County, N.H. Sheriff Eli Rivera
Sgt. Brittney Garrett from the Jeffersontown, Ky. Police Department
Steve Lesnikoski, Gloucester Police Department Angel participant and P.A.A.R.I. intern
Quotes from law enforcement leaders and P.A.A.R.I. members:
Chief Joe Grecol, Berea Ohio: “The fact that Cuyahoga County is on pace to exceed 600 heroin deaths in 2017 based on the first two months of the year, where we had 46 in January and more than 60 in February, mandates that we as law enforcement professionals do more than just respond to the calls. We need to step into uncomfortable territory and offer another avenue for addicts to find treatment.”
Chief Matt Vanyo, Olmsted Township, Ohio: “The State of Ohio is ground zero for the opiate crisis. Our congressional leaders and state representatives need to hear testimony from first responders who are on the front lines of this health epidemic, hear about the collaborative policing programs law enforcement is initiating, and hear about the ramifications for their communities if Medicaid funding for substance abuse treatment is severely cut and/or negated.”
Chief Scott Allen, East Bridgewater, Mass.: “I traveled to D.C. as part of P.A.A.R.I.’s national law enforcement council to support and advocate for the need to continue providing healthcare and resources to support those in need as a result of the opioid crisis. The majority of our substance use disorder sufferers that attend our East Bridgewater-based, EB HOPE Drop-In Center have Massachusetts health insurance and rely on the state and federal funding to access treatment on a daily basis. We will continue to advocate for those families suffering through this crisis on a daily basis.”
Chief Ken Strish, Berwick Pa: “There are many residents in Berwick that are battling drug addiction, and drug related crime has become a constant. The current problem and alarming statistics indicate that there is a dire need to change tactics. This is the main reason that the Borough of Berwick Police Department joined P.A.A.R.I. and why I will offer anything that I can do to assist with combating the opioid epidemic. Most of the members of my community utilize Medicaid and because Pennsylvania is one of the states with the highest opioid overdose death rates, we have expanded access to medication-assisted treatment. This needs to continue not only throughout Pennsylvania but nationwide. The Affordable Care Act must expand the availability of long-term treatment.”
Sheriff Eli Rivera, Cheshire County N.H.: “I am joining this group of law enforcement leaders in D.C. to continue the conversation on the opioid crisis this nation is facing and remind congressional leaders the importance of long-term and sustainable services and funding for the treatment of people suffering from a substance misuse disorder. I am also here to thank them for supporting the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.”
Sgt. Brittney Garrett, Jeffersontown Ky.: “Many of our community members in need of help are encountering persistent barriers from a lack of available beds and services, insufficient insurance coverage, and various obstacles along the continuum of care. I hope to discuss the barriers to recovery that I’ve encountered in Kentucky, as well as funding and intervention at the federal level that will improve access to treatment and increase the safety and health of our communities. We want to enhance the safety and health of the communities we serve through collaborative solutions that ensure pathways to recovery instead of arrest for those seeking help with drug addiction.”
Steve Lesnikoski, Gloucester Police Department Angel participant and P.A.A.R.I. intern: “I decided to join the trip to D.C. and meet with my senators to provide insight and show that recovery is possible. It’s imperative to keep Medicaid subsidized treatment in place. Cycling in and out of detox, inpatient rehab, and jail led me to a life of homelessness and estrangement from my loved ones. An unlikely source of hope came in the form of a police chief, who had no emotional investment in my life other than seeing me suffer as I lay in a hospital bed suffering from opiate withdrawal. I am one of the fortunate ones to be able to share this with individuals who can make a tangible change. I know firsthand what it is like to benefit from Medicaid subsidized treatment. Addiction is a bipartisan issue and our policy makers need to start treating it as such. The fact remains that people are dying in every socioeconomic segment of this country so please, let us come together and find a solution. Recovery is possible but it takes solutions that are considered outside of the box to compete with the powerful narcotics on our streets. My drug dealer certainly never cared what insurance I had. Continuous investigation into evidence based treatment that works, Medicaid and funding for programs like P.A.A.R.I. and the Gloucester Angel Initiative, and initiatives inspired by the Gloucester Police Department, are what will turn the tide on this epidemic.”
About the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.):
P.A.A.R.I. police departments share a common mission: encourage opioid drug users to seek recovery, help distribute life saving opioid blocking drugs to prevent and treat overdoses, connect those struggling with the disease of addiction with treatment programs and facilities and provide resources to other police departments and communities that want to do more to fight the opioid epidemic.
P.A.A.R.I. is an independent nonprofit organization that supports law enforcement agencies in setting up, communicating and running their own addiction and recovery programs. The police departments, sheriffs offices, and prosecutors who have partnered with P.A.A.R.I. interact directly with members of the public and those seeking treatment, recovery, and resources. Learn more at paariusa.org.