We’ve published a few articles in the past that discussed the major societal issues facing alcoholics and drug addicts, and what we can do to help them. One of the first times we ever did this was in our article on legal issues faced by addicts, which discussed the benefits of our court liaison program here at Amethyst Recovery. While this program enables us to help our patients on an individual basis, it does little to change the fact that many addicts and alcoholics do not receive the help they need while facing incarceration and other means of justice. Now, thanks to our partnership with the Scarborough Maine Police Department, we are able to effect some real change through Operation HOPE.
What Is Operation HOPE?
Operation HOPE is a program that was begun by the Scarborough Maine Police Department in partnership with a number of treatment centers. Like us, the Scarborough PD saw that many addicts and alcoholics were still in their youth. Not particularly thrilled at the thought of locking these kids up instead of helping them find treatment, the police sought the aid of several treatment centers.
It should be noted that Operation HOPE was not started with only teenagers in mind. In fact, the program is aimed at just about anyone who is in need of treatment for their addiction. The program is specifically geared to combat the rising rates of heroin and opioid addiction, but those who are addicted to other substances will be put into contact with centers that can help them as well. In order to receive this help, however, they must be willing to demonstrate a bit of willingness by entering the police station with all drugs and drug paraphernalia currently in their possession. Upon turning these into the police, they will not be arrested. Instead, the drugs will be disposed of and the person who brought them in will be given access to proper addiction treatment.
The officers of Scarborough are not the only ones who are helping these willing addicts enter recovery. There are also a number of volunteers from around the community, caring men and women whom Operation HOPE has labeled as “Angels.” The Portland Recovery Community Center, another major partner of Operation HOPE, has been kind enough to provide these Angels with the training they need to deal with those who struggle with addiction and alcoholism. The Scarborough Police Department has also undergone special training for dealing with these individuals, so as to provide the best possible service to those who are willing to seek treatment.
Operation HOPE is not the first program of its kind. Many of these programs exist in at least twenty areas covering nine different states. This is great progress, but it is not nearly enough. By continuing the spread of such programs through Operation HOPE, it is the hope of Scarborough and of Amethyst Recovery that more and more of these programs will begin to take hold. In light of the recent UNITE to Face Addiction rally, there is hope that many will begin to see the value of programs that help to fight addiction and promote recovery.
It should be noted that Operation HOPE is not a government program. Instead, it was organized solely by compassionate members of the Scarborough Police Department and the recovery centers that have agreed to become a part of the program. Instead of tax dollars, grants and other forms of private funding will provide the funds needed to keep the program in operation. The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative has been largely responsible for setting this up. With the aid of forty treatment centers across seventeen different states, the ultimate goal of the PAARI is to work with legislators and members of Congress to have addiction classified as an illness so that public views on addiction and recovery may begin to change. In this way, programs like Operation HOPE can start a trend that will benefit addicts far outside of their immediate areas.
How Operation HOPE Began
As noted above, Operation HOPE began as a movement to help addicts who are willing to seek treatment for their addictions. “We signed up for this job to help people and there are people who desperately need help,” Scarborough Police Chief Robbie Moulton told the Portland Press Herald. “We will treat them with respect. We will keep them safe. We will try to get them in recovery.”
The Scarborough Police Department estimates that at least 80% (and up to 85%) of the crime in their town is drug-related. In the past year alone, there have been ten near-fatal overdoses and one actual overdose death (not to mention about 208 overdose deaths in all of Maine last year). Addiction has affected a number of youths in Scarborough, but has also affected parents, colleagues, suburbanites, rural citizens, and many others. “This goes across all socioeconomic lines,” said Moulton. “We really need to see addiction for what it is—a health issue.”
Even while Operation HOPE was still in its infancy as an idea, the Scarborough PD were well aware that there could be a large number of addicts seeking help through their new program. This is why one of the first steps was to seek the help of out-of-state treatment centers such as Amethyst. PAARI was vital in helping them accomplish this goal. And we are quite happy to know that we were not the only treatment center to offer supplies. For instance, Portland’s Liberty Bay Recovery Center offered three beds for those who had trouble affording treatment. Some think of treatment centers as mere businesses, but programs such as Operation HOPE show the recovery community as just that—a community. There may be treatment centers out there who feel the need to be competitive, but most of us are more than willing to unite together when we see the opportunity to help those who are still suffering.
The need for such a community played a major role in the creation of Operation HOPE. As we mentioned in our article on the benefits of small treatment centers, Maine is one of many states currently experiencing issues with state-funded treatment. When Mercy Recovery Center closed in Westbrook, at least 45 staff members were left without jobs (with another 45 reassigned to other centers) and around 250 patients were affected. With the number of available treatment beds at a major low in the state of Maine, the beds that are still available have been given extremely long waiting lists.
Officer John Gill was one of the first to notice the impact that Mercy’s closing would have on the treatment of drug addiction in the state of Maine, and he helped lead Scarborough in the creation of Operation HOPE to combat the growing need for treatment and rehabilitation. In this way, Gill and the rest of the Scarborough PD helped to establish a program that will hopefully help numerous addicts in the state of Maine. They presented the plan to the Town Council, and initiated the program on the first day of October. And only a few days in, there is already reason to believe that this program is going to do some good.
Benefits of Operation HOPE
Many major benefits of Operation HOPE are implicit in the above descriptions of the program’s goals and how it got started. For instance, we noted that it began in response to the closing of one of Maine’s major treatment centers. Now, patients who are unable to receive the care they need without being placed on a waiting list will be able to forgo the expected waiting period while receiving treatment in another state. Hopefully, as Operation HOPE proves beneficial, PAARI will be able to put them in contact with even more treatment centers.
One of the other primary benefits of Operation HOPE is that many addicts who are willing to make a positive change in their lives will be able to save themselves from legal trouble by coming forward to the police. Many addicts have a problem “wasting” drugs. We will feel unable to quit if we still have drugs in our possession, feeling as if we should simply quit once we have finished the rest of our stash. But upon reaching the end, we are dissatisfied with our last high. We need another fix, and the cycle begins anew. When addicts turn over their drugs to the Scarborough Police Department, they are taking a major step toward breaking this cycle.
In fact, the step they take by surrendering their drug of choice to the police is a benefit in and of itself. Operation HOPE may sound like an easy way out of legal trouble, but it is not. In truth, it is an exercise in extreme willingness. Any addict who is willing to walk into a police station (a place that many addicts consider to be a veritable lions’ den) with drugs in hand, place them on the table, and ask for help, is an addict who truly has their heart set on getting sober so that they may begin to live their life to the fullest.
We brought up the recent UNITE to Face Addiction rally earlier, and we should mention it again here. Those who attended the rally or watched it through live streaming are already aware that the future treatment of addicts was a recurring topic of discussion. Numerous celebrities, from comedic actor Allison Janney to famed musician Ozzy Osbourne, noted that there is an unfortunate stigma against addicts and alcoholics. Many politicians noted this stigma as well, and voiced the need for a positive change. The success of programs such as Operation HOPE will help to demonstrate the benefits of these programs, lending credence to the belief that treatment is a more effective means of combating substance abuse than simple incarceration.
Not only does Operation HOPE benefit addicts and alcoholics, but their families as well. Addiction is a family disease, and our families are growing weary of watching us slowly kill ourselves. Their pocketbooks grow lighter as they continuously bail us out of jail, and their souls grow heavier as they watch us suffering in our hospital beds after a night of excessive use. Thanks to Operation HOPE, many addicts and their families will no longer be subjected to such suffering. And the families of addicts and alcoholics assigned to Amethyst will find that we have our own channels of support for the parents of young addicts. As much as addicts and alcoholics must go through a process of recovery, the same can be said of families. Every family that we are able to help in Maine is a blessing to us, and we like to think that other treatment centers involved in Operation HOPE must feel the same way.
Operation HOPE Success Stories
The success of a program such as Operation HOPE is not measured by sheer numbers. During the UNITE to Face Addiction rally, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio (who introduced the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015) noted that when it comes to addiction, success is measured by empty jail cells, and by the number of parents who are able to return to their children. This is why we do not believe it is enough to describe the benefits of Operation HOPE in broad terms. To truly explain the success of this program, we must look at the number of lives it has affected. And while the program was only initiated a few days ago, not one day has gone by without some measure of success.
You can read more about these success stories on Scarborough PD’s Facebook page. However, we will summarize the success of each day of the program so far.
On the first day of Operation HOPE, three people approached the Scarborough Maine Police Department in need of help. The first was a single mother in her twenties. Upon receiving her request for help, she was put on a plane to Florida so that she could undergo a ninety-day stay in treatment. The second individual was a man in his thirties. He is already undergoing a detoxification process, and will be transported to Florida for treatment as long as a minor legal issue from 1997 can be resolved. The third was a woman in her forties. While her place of treatment has not yet been decided, she is receiving hospital care in the meantime.
The first day also showed just how much support there is for this program. At the time of writing, Scarborough’s Facebook post about day one has been shared 235 times. In addition, 569 people have clicked “Like,” and there have been at least 56 comments expressing support and gratitude for the police department’s initiative in providing treatment for those in need.
On the second day of Operation HOPE, another three people approached the Scarborough Main Police Department in need of help. The first was a man in his thirties, who was addicted to cocaine. While it was initially the rising rates of heroin and opioid addiction that led to the creation of the program, Portland Recovery Community Center was able to attend to his needs. The second individual in need of help was a young woman addicted to heroin. She is on her way to Amethyst, where we will treat her for the next ninety days. The third individual to approach the Scarborough Police Department was another young woman. While she did not commit to treatment just yet, the fact that she was willing to speak with the police about her addiction is a potentially great sign. She may not even realize the progress she has made by admitting to her problem, and the police are hopeful that this will be enough to sway her toward treatment in the near future.
Again, the Facebook post for day two received a great deal of support. At the time of writing, 392 people have clicked “Like.” There have also been 78 shares and at least 39 comments by people either expressing support for the program or requesting further information about it.
The third day of Operation HOPE is the last day on which we have any information at the time of writing. On this day, two individuals approached the Scarborough Maine Police Department in need of help. One woman could unfortunately not be helped. While she had insurance, it would not cover out-of-state care, and she elected not to stay at any of the centers in her area. Again, we are hopeful that her willingness to approach the police with her problem is a sign that she may become more open-minded in the near future. The second individual approached rather late in the day, and could not be helped until the following morning. This young man will begin his recovery in Portland, at Skip Murphy’s Structured Sober Living. Given our strong views on the benefits of sober living facilities, we are quite excited for him.
There was a little less support for the third Facebook post on Operation HOPE’s progress, with only 3 shares and 9 comments at the time of writing. Still, 148 people clicked “Like,” indicating that there is a wealth of support for this program. It is not uncommon for a program to receive less buzz after the initial excitement wears off, but we are hopeful that support will only grow with time.
Let us not forget that the individuals described above are not the only ones affected by Operation HOPE. We must also remember the friends and family members who are able to rest easy tonight, knowing that someone they love is receiving the help they need. They will not have to lie awake at night in fear, wondering if a loved one will still be alive in the morning. As for those who have not yet entered treatment, hope is not lost for them. They have admitted to their problem, which is the first step in breaking through denial.
Addiction is a widespread disease, claiming countless lives on a daily basis. But through Operation HOPE, many addicts are learning that they do not have to be afraid. They are learning that the police are not their enemies. Their purpose, in the deepest sense, is to protect and serve. We are fortunate to be a part of that mission, and we are grateful that our participation has put us into contact with wonderful people from other treatment centers who share our goal of fighting addiction one case at a time. We hope that other cities in other states will see the benefit of programs such as Operation HOPE, so that funding may increase and the law may begin to favor treatment over harsher penalties.
Addiction is a disease, and we need to treat it as one. The above individuals have shown that the first step toward recovery is not a hefty fine or a jail sentence. The first step toward recovery is to discover that, although we may have lost touch with it while in our addictions, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. In Greek mythology, Pandora’s box unleashed countless evils upon the world. Addiction was almost certainly one of them. But those evils were accompanied by one virtuous resource, without which humanity would be lost forever in a sea of darkness. There is a name for that virtue, which Scarborough PD has so freely distributed among those in dire need of it.
That name, dear friends, is HOPE.