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Erie County: Need remains for 'angels' to help combat opioid abuse

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Tue, Jun 7th 2016 01:00 pm

Key facet of REAP program, volunteers monitor, stay with addicts seeking treatment, rehabilitation

Erie County needs more "angels."

Last month, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Erie County Health Commissioner Gale R. Burstein, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of WNY William J. Hochul and police chiefs representing law enforcement agencies from across Western New York to unveil details of the rapid evaluation appropriate placement ("REAP") program, modeled after a successful anti-opioid abuse initiative in Massachusetts and designed to address this area's ongoing opioid abuse crisis. A unique aspect of the REAP initiative is the use of volunteer "angels," people willing to monitor and stay with addicts who are seeking treatment and want to enter into the rehabilitation process. To date, 47 "angels" have come forward to offer their assistance with this potentially lifesaving task, but the hope is to recruit at least 100 "angels."

"It is encouraging that nearly 50 people have already volunteered to help us with this critical aspect of the REAP program, but we need to double that number to fully implement the program and help as many opioid-addicted individuals as possible," Poloncarz said. "Angels serve compassionately as people who understand the rigors of addiction and may have personally overcome them, and now offer their own experiences and perspectives to strengthen others in the struggle. I thank them for being a part of this community-wide effort to combat opioid abuse, and I encourage anyone else who won their battle with addiction to consider helping others with the fight."

"Angels are needed to help address this epidemic and get individuals into appropriate treatment services," Burstein said. "These volunteers will work closely with law enforcement and treatment agencies to offer emotional support to people struggling with addiction who are ready to enter treatment. We are looking for people over the age of 21 years who are willing to volunteer at potentially unusual times of day."

Planning for implementation of the REAP program in Erie and Niagara counties is ongoing, with 12 police agencies interested in participating. The REAP concept was successful in Gloucester, Massachusetts. That community's property crime rate decreased by 31 percent after the program was implemented. The program follows the philosophy of helping people misusing opioids access treatment and avoid arrest.

The Erie County Department of Health is recruiting potential angels to assist with the program on a volunteer basis. To learn more about the REAP program, including how to apply to be an angel by completing a civil and criminal background check and signing a confidentiality pledge, visit http://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=opioid-epidemic-task-force-reap.

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