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Compassionate cops

As Southern Oregon grapples with a rising number of overdoses from opioids and illegal drug use in general, Ashland police are quietly doing what they can to help those struggling with addiction — and that means helping them into treatment, not into a jail cell.

Since last October, the department has implemented the Gateway Program, modeled after one in Gloucester, Massachusetts. That city’s Angel Program shifted the focus from arresting drug users to helping them connect with treatment programs. In the first year, a study showed that of 417 cases where a person who visited the Gloucester police station was eligible for treatment, 94.5 percent were offered direct placement and 89.7 percent enrolled in detox or other recovery services.

Enrollment, of course, doesn’t guarantee completion, but users enrolling in non-punitive treatment programs are more likely to succeed in conquering their addictions than if they are serving jail sentences. Not only that, but drug possession charges along likely won’t result in a jail stay anyway, because nonviolent offenders are the first to be released for overcrowding, putting them right back on the street.

Under Ashland’s program, anyone walking into the police station who asks for help with their drug use will not be charged, and will be given priority for screening at Medford’s Addictions Recovery Center. So far, 14 people from Ashland have checked in under the program.

The combination of compassion and assistance with treatment have the potential to do far more to reduce drug abuse than arrests and incarceration.