WAYLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — In the midst of a national opioid epidemic, Michigan State Police are taking an unconventional approach to help those who are addicted.
MSP is giving people a chance to walk in and get help with no questions asked and without getting arrested. It’s called the Michigan State Police Angel Program, and it’s launching at the Wayland Post.
“This is obviously very different for law enforcement and I think it raises some eyebrows — wondering, here’s police who are asking people who are addicted to drugs to come to their post. And it’s not designed to be a ‘gotcha,'” Wayland Post Sgt. Keith Disselkoen said.
He said the opioid and heroin epidemic affects everyone.
“One of the things we’re seeing is that people who are now addicted didn’t really start as what you would think of as a drug user. It might be because of an injury and they were prescribed some sort of opioid and then their prescription ran out,” Disselkoen said.
Joining a nationwide effort that began in Massachusetts in 2015, MSP launched the Angel Program in Northern Michigan, the Upper Peninsula and Southern Michigan in 2016. The agency is working on expanding the program across the state by the end of the year.
As part of the Angel Program, posts essentially serve as a safe place for people to say, “I need help.”
It works like this: Anyone struggling with an addiction of any kind can show up at the Wayland Post between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and explain their problem. An angel volunteer will be called in and then contact a regional access center, which refers the drug user to treatment and detox facilities through a state-backed prepaid inpatient health plan. The angel will then drive the drug user to get help.
“We’re not asking people where they obtained their drugs, or how much they have, or how long they’ve been a user. It’s a direction referral into treatment,” Disselkoen said.
“We are in the midst of the largest man-made epidemic in the history of the United States. And our babies are dying. Nearly 100 people die a day of opiate overdoses in the United States. And we’ve tried to fix it — our method of trying to fix this problem is to shame and blame people,” Dr. Sandy Dettman, who specializes in treating addiction, said.
She said people who come to her private practice in Grand Rapids often fear being shamed, blamed or arrested. She believes the Angel Program is worth it even it helps just one person.
“Even the Michigan State Police realize that addiction is a disease, it is not a crime, and it’s about time we start treating it as a disease,” Dettman said. “I believe that they (MSP) realize that addiction afflicts good people. People who are drug or alcohol addicted are good people with bad disease.”
“I think one of the toughest things is seeing how it impacts people’s lives, how it can destroy lives,” Disselkoen said.
The MSP Wayland Post is recruiting at least 10 volunteers for the Angel Program. An open house is scheduled for July 15 at the post on 10th Street.
Volunteers must be at least 21 years old and have reliable transportation.
“You need to be able to respond to our post within an hour so that we can get the people help in a timely manner,” Disselkoen said.
There’s also a background check, but Disselkoen said that shouldn’t discourage volunteers.
“We don’t want that to concern people because a lot of times the best support who’s seeking help in addiction is someone who’s living in long-term recovery,” he said.
Volunteers who qualify will get training on policies and procedures and how to de-escalate a situation.
All the posts in the MSP 5th District — which includes Wayland, Marshall, Niles and Paw Paw — will launch the Angel Program this summer. The program will expand to the Marshall post this month.
Those interested in volunteering through the MSP Marshall Post should call 269.558.0500. Those who help will be reimbursed for mileage and meals.
Some 200 law enforcement agencies across the nation have a similar addiction aid program.