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Dover's 'ANGEL' initiative steers opioid users into treatment instead of jail

Delaware Public Media

In the summer of 2016 the Dover Police Department teamed up with an addiction recovery center to divert opiate users into treatment and away from crime, jail or death.


Less than a year later, police departments around the First State are looking at Dover's ANGEL Program as a model they could adopt.  


Anthony Smith has been a patrolman for the Dover Police Department for the past 3 years. Over this period he's watched opiates spread through Delaware’s capital city.


"It’s an epidemic. It’s everywhere. You can just see it all day,” he said. 


In a typical 12 hour shift, Smith said he receives an average of one drug-related call an hour. And that includes watching opiate overdoses firsthand.


“I see it on the regular. Hands down. Right on the front line, I see it. I see it with the needle still in the arm. I see it with someone who you thought was asleep but you roll them over and rigor mortis has set in and they still have the needle in their arm. So I see it. I see it a lot,” he said.


Opioid-relatedoverdose deaths in Delaware have jumped more than 300 percent in the past 15 years, with much of that spike taking place in the past five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.


Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Patrolman Anthony Smith of the Dover Police Department.

And this tidal wave of opiate addiction hasn’t just battered the police department.


Connections CSP provides methadone and drug counseling to 2,000 opiate addicts daily in Delaware. 


“Right now we have about 400 people that come in each morning to get medication-assisted treatment,” said Alex Cropper, site director for Connections CSP's Dover clinic. 


But even though treatment is available, there are still opiate addicts in Dover who don’t know it exists. And that’s why the Dover PD teamed up with Connections for the ANGEL Program.


Through this program, opioid users can surrender themselves and their drugs at the police department and get placed in treatment, not jail. Meanwhile, officers like Patrolman Smith are actively spreading the word on the street that treatment is available.


Dover's ANGEL Program is modeled after the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative that started in Gloucester, Massachusetts in the summer of 2015.


Dover started its program a year later. And similar programs are now in more than 200 police departments across 28 states.


And the ANGEL Program could soon be in more police departments in Delaware.


“Since we put this program into play with the Dover Police Department, I’ve had other police departments contact me to get involved as well,” Cropper said. 


Ocean View, Middletown and Newark are just a few police departments interested in adopting the Angels Program.


And Delaware’s attorney general is currently developing a statewide policy that allows police departments to partner with treatment facilities.


New Castle County started a program last year called Hero Help that’s nearly identical to the ANGEL Program.


And it's likely we'll see greater need for these type of treatment-police partnerships in the future with more people getting hooked on opiates every day.


Credit James Morrison / Delaware Public Media
Delaware Public Media
Heroin baggy on the ground in Downtown Dover.

Craig (whose last name we're not printing out of fear he could lose his job) is 23 years old and comes to Connections in Dover every morning before work to get his daily dose of methadone.


He’s been clean for about six months and he’s one of the dozen people who entered treatment through the Angel program. He got hooked on heroin his first time using it about a year and a half ago.  


“I feel as though if I don’t take the medicine I’d probably be back out using heroin on the street. Before I started taking it I was at my wits end so I basically turned to the medicine and it’s been helping me ever since.” Craig said. 


Craig's aunt learned about the ANGEL program when he was in jail for failing to appear in court, and she immediately enrolled him.


He admitted he was reluctant to enter treatment at first, and literally ran away from Cropper on the way to Connections.


But looking back, Craig said he’s grateful for the opportunity to get his life back under control.    

“You either succumb to the drug or you get help. And I’m trying to get help. I don’t want to do it. And I’m feeling really hopeful about the future and it’s looking good,” he said. 

Opioid Overdose Deaths in Delaware
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Overdose Deaths by Age Group
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