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White Plains Looks To Divert Opioid Addicts To Treatment Through Amnesty Program

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A drug amnesty program in Westchester aims to divert addicts from jail to treatment.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported, there's been a change of heart for police in suburban White Plains as cops announce a new role in dealing with drug abuse.

The once feared enforcer is now assuming a more benevolent posture when it comes to opioids -- heroin and prescription pain killers.

"If you're willing to come into the police department and look for help, we're going to help you as guardians, we're going to help you," White Plains Public Safety Commissioner, David Chong said.

It's a simple program. For the first time in White Plains drug users can come to the police department, present themselves, turn in their drugs, and get help instead of getting arrested.

"If someone comes through and they have a kilo, they're going to have to stand for that, but personal use possession, we're going to give them amnesty so we can get them treatment," Lt. Jim Spencer said.

The cops will take the drugs and call a treatment center to come pick the addict up. Bed placement is guaranteed, and non-profit partners have promised to do the leg work.

"Most people have insurance, but in case they don't we'll absolutely help them get a free bed," Joan Bonsignore, National Council of Addiction Disorders said.

It's suspected many of the addicts will be placed through Medicaid. The mayor said he saw the need for this with the spike in overdose victims saved by the opioid antidote Narcan carried by cops.

Narcan saves have become commonplace.

"It's plenty, it's plenty. More than we'd like," Police Officer Kevin Beall said.

That's 41 Narcan saves for the 200 member department since the program started in 2014.

"On one hand Narcan seemed to be a miracle, but on the other hand as more and more saves were being made, you realize there's another side to this," Mayor Tom Roach (D) said.

Recovering addicts told CBS2 the program will save lives. Joel Pomales is also a treatment intake director.

"I had plenty of contact with law enforcement. I was never offered treatment when I was arrested or let go," he said.

In one community that is changing.

White Plains will be sending its drug referrals to a center in New Brunswick.

The program Saving Opiate Burdened Addicts or SOBA said it's ready to accept as many as three people a day if need be. For more information about SOBA New Jersey, click here.


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