BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Lt. Jeff Rinaldo of the Buffalo Police Department heads up Erie County’s Rapid Evaluation Appropriate Placement (REAP) initiative.
The program, modeled after a similar one in Gloucester, Mass., launched in August.
It’s off to a slow but steady start. 13 area law enforcement agencies are now participating.
“We have just seen this area devastated by this heroin epidemic and unfortunately there’s no easy answer to it, so anything we do to get somebody in treatment is better than doing nothing,” Lt. Rinaldo told News 4.
REAP is a way to get users help, and fast. That means losing the red tape and the fear of being arrested.
Drug users can walk in and ask for help at any participating law enforcement office. They’re then connected to counselors at Crisis Services, who determined whether they need detox, inpatient, or outpatient care.
If addicts need detox or inpatient care, they’re brought to the Renaissance House in Buffalo.
No user will be arrested if they’ve got drugs on them, but law enforcement will destroy the drugs.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was in Buffalo Monday to discuss new laws aimed at combating overdose deaths. She mentioned the state’s $200 million budget for treatment facilities.
“That is up over 82 percent increase in providing assistance for this illness since 2011, so the state of New York is also vested financially in finding solutions and we’re going to continue doing that,” she said the Horizon Health Services Monday morning.
Rinaldo said Buffalo Police have seen a reduction in fentanyl overdoses since August; they saw around eight overdose report last month, compared to past months which averaged 50.
There’s also been a decline in the use of Narcan by Buffalo Police Officers. The overdose-reversal drug is now available to the general public without a prescription.
“We have seen for the month of August as well as September, a drastic drop off. Now that doesn’t mean that the problem is solved, it simply means that I think a number of factors are working together to help,” Rinaldo said.
REAP now has 97 volunteers, close to its original goal of 100. They’re called “angels.”
So far, only 3 angels have been called up.
Rinaldo said convincing users that police are actually here to help is a challenge that will take time.
Gemma Zotara is an angel waiting for her call.
News 4 stopped at Zotara’s home Monday’s morning.
She showed her bag of goodies she’s prepared for when her phone rings.
“I have cookies, I have Doritos, handwipes,” she explained.
The bag is filled with things to keep a user occupied while they wait for help to arrive. Zotara’s job as an angel is to sit with them at the police station, keep them comfortable, and support them.
The opiate epidemic hits close to home for her.
“Family and friends have been effected in some way or another, and I just want to be a part of the solution,” she said.
“It’s very, very heartbreaking to see the moms and the dads have to bury their kids because of a drug overdose.”
It’s hard to look on the bright side, but the REAP program, while off to a slow start is making an impact, according to Buffalo Police.
Zotara, despite still waiting for her call, is optimistic.
“I think with any business, it takes a while to get it off the ground and I think the same with this program.”