Two Years Since Start of Longmont’s Angel Initiative, Staff Has Learned a Lot About Treatment System

December 29, 2018 GMT

If you want to help

• If you know someone struggling with substance abuse, you can bring them to the Safety and Justice Center, 225 Kimbark St., where they can meet with a volunteer or staff member to talk about their case.

• To volunteer, call 303-774-4440 or email kay.armstrong@longmontcolorado.gov

• If you’re an employer who wants to partner with the program, call 303-651-8541 or email michelle.webb@longmontcolorado.gov

• If you’re a treatment provider and want to partner with the program, call 303-651-8424 or email robin.ericson@longmontcolorado.gov

In the two years since the Longmont Public Safety Department launched its local Angel Initiative in January 2017, volunteers and staff have helped 128 people connect with treatment and learned about the difficulties that substance abusers face when looking for help.

“I can’t imagine doing this while addicted,” said Longmont police Deputy Chief Jeff Satur. Navigating the system to find people treatment options, he’s found, is an unwieldy task that can sometimes even stump those who are trained to do the work.

Still, the number of people participating in the program is increasing, as well as the number of community partners who are working on the program with police. In 2017, 54 people used the program. In 2018, 74 people used it.

Most use more than one substance, the most common of which is alcohol. The next most common substance is methamphetamine, which is seeing a rise across the country due to its cheap price and availability.

The Angel Initiative was modeled after a program first launched in 2015 in Gloucester, Mass., as a response to the opioid epidemic on the East Coast.

The idea has spread to law enforcement agencies across the country through the organization Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or P.A.A.R.I. Longmont was the first Colorado department to partner with the group.

With this program, “Longmont is no longer a community in which someone has to have the financial wherewithal or insurance to receive treatment for chemical substance addiction,” said Public Safety Chief Mike Butler. “Our Angel Initiative is the bridge to treatment for people who are experiencing addiction.”

“Angel” volunteers, as well as department staff, help connect those with substance abuse disorders to treatment services.

With some exceptions, the program will try to help anyone who gets referred to it by family, friends or a medical provider. Some people ask for help of their own accord, walking into the department off the streets.

While the Public Safety Department coordinates the program, it has not increased its annual budget to subsidize the Angel Initiative, Butler said. Instead, it relies on community partners and scholarships. He estimates about $2.5 million in “free” treatment has been provided to participants through partners

“In our minds, when we kicked it off, we thought we’d place people in a couple of hours,” Satur said. But they quickly learned that wouldn’t be the case.

Getting people into treatment often involves triaging a variety of factors, including health insurance, travel and potential detox, so they can get clean before entering a facility.

Satur said it typically takes three to seven days to place someone in treatment.

Robin Ericson, assistant to the public safety chief, said it’s been eye-opening to learn the challenges that those seeking help are up against.

“It’s really difficult to navigate this system,” Ericson said. Given that staff and volunteer members have had trouble figuring things out, despite their collective experiences and being sober, she said, “I can see how many (substance abusers) would not find help.”

It’s often difficult to just connect with facilities, as Angel volunteers sometimes need to explain a client’s situation or ask for a scholarship to get them a bed in a residential facility.

“My favorite treatment providers are the ones who answer their phones,” Satur said. The department has so far compiled a list of 115 treatment providers, both within and outside of Colorado.

The group of core dedicated staff and volunteers has run into other problems, such as housing. While most participants had housing when they approached the program, about 38 percent were transient or homeless.

For them, “residential treatment is great,” said Michelle Webb, research and community engagement manager. “But figuring out where they’re gonna live after is really hard.”

Webb is trying to help a mother who is living in her car, and struggling to stay sober. Without housing, it will be hard for her to maintain it.

“I used to think that theory was pointless until I worked domestic violence, until I worked substance abuse,” Ericson said. “But it’s hard for them to change if there’s nothing about their life that’s stable.”

Once finished with treatment, the Angel Initiative also can help people find other resources, although they often do that work in treatment. The program has a list of 30 local employers who have said they would work with participants, and they can help people look for housing as well.

The program also will accept people who have already used it, Satur said. It often takes multiple attempts at treatment for people to actually get, and stay, sober.

While many people volunteer for different aspects of the program, outreach manager Kay Armstrong said they could use more volunteers to work on getting people into treatment.

Volunteers for the Angel Initiative need to be “someone who has a heart to see an addiction as a disease and not a failure,” she said.

Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, mstamour@prairiemountainmedia.com