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Nearly two years ago, community leaders united to combat the opioid crisis in Wilson and launched multiple initiatives.
One of those initiatives was the Hope Alliance, housed at the Wilson Police Department. It provides those suffering from substance use disorders a safe way to get help without fear of incarceration and offers resources to attain a path to recovery.
The program, which has proven to be a vital resource, is still going strong.
“The word is getting out more,” said Shannon Nichols, Hope Alliance’s coordinator. “People are hearing about the program.”
‘THERE IS NO SHAME’
Since the end of 2017, the program has served at least 41 individuals who have either entered into some form of detox, inpatient or outpatient program. That number doesn’t include the dozens of inquiries and assessments performed, officials said.
Out of those 41 people, more than half were served since this January alone.
“We’ve had enough to come out of the program now that can really tell their story,” Nichols said.
When somebody comes in or calls in wanting help, Nichols sits down and performs an assessment. The assessment involves identifying what substance or substances the individuals are using at that moment, as well as guiding and connecting them to options including detox, outpatient and inpatient treatment.
“We work with them to try and get the best fit for them,” Nichols said. “There is no shame in this at all as long as you get help.”
Nichols said individuals seeking help are often dealing with heroin, cocaine and prescription drug use. She said the Hope Alliance is also seeing an uptick in those seeking help for alcohol use disorder.
Those who walk into the police department for help are also given an opportunity to discard any drug paraphernalia or small amounts of drugs they have with them at the time without fearing punitive action.
“We encourage individuals to go seek us out to get the help they need with Hope Alliance,” said Wilson Police Capt. Jeff Boykin.
‘IT TAKES A COMMUNITY’
Boykin, a Hope Alliance board member who also oversees the police department’s special operations division, said community partnerships are vital and by joining forces with others, police can help solve a problem that plagues families from all walks of life.
“So many people are affected,” Boykin said. “That’s one of the visions we had with Hope Alliance — to be able to get people the assistance they need to recover. It takes a community to tackle something as big as substance use disorders.”
DEATH BY distribution VS. GOOD SAMARITAN
Drug dealers can face second-degree murder charges currently, but prosecutors have to prove malice, which can be difficult.
North Carolina’s Death by Distribution Act, which was recently signed into law and goes into effect Dec. 1, gives state prosecutors a chance to pursue higher level felony charges with stiffer penalties similar to those given under second-degree murder charges without having to prove malice. While law enforcement officials say it’s another tool for them to use when combating the opioid crisis, they don’t want people to get it confused with another state law aimed to save lives — the Good Samaritan law.
North Carolina’s Good Samaritan law provides criminal and civil immunity to bystanders who call for emergency help during an overdose.
“The Good Samaritan law covers the person who is with someone who overdoses so that we can intervene and provide first aid,” Boykin said. “That’s a lot different than the dealer that is selling to individuals where an overdose death occurs as a result.”
Boykin said police don’t want people to avoid reporting an overdose, which can be a life-or-death emergency, for fear of being prosecuted.
“We don’t want people to fearful to make that call,” he said. “We want to save lives. That’s our main objective.”
Boykin said police do receive calls regarding overdoses where people are using the Good Samaritan law.
“But at the same time, with the new emphasis on prosecution and sentencing, we don’t want that to be an issue with people calling,” he said.
In addition to helping those suffering from substance use disorders, the Wilson Police Department continues to leverage federal resources, which has led to stiffer penalties involving the sale of heroin that leads to an overdose death. Officers have had success too, with several cases in Wilson where dealers are getting a substantial amount of time in prison for their actions.
Boykin said police will continue to use all local, state and federal resources available when it comes to dealers selling substances where an overdose death occurs.
“It’s a situation where we will weigh what’s best for the community and take legal action accordingly,” he said.