New Britain

Plan Offers Help for Opioid Addicts Instead of Incarceration

Shyang Puri

A new partnership between healthcare providers and law enforcement in New Britain and Berlin was announced on Monday to help people suffering from opioid addiction get into treatment.

Through the program, H.O.P.E. (Heroin, Opioid Prevention and Education), police officers will have the option to bring people suffering from heroin or opioid abuse to area hospitals instead of arrest them.

Rachel Collins, director of Behavioral Health Services for the Hospital of Central Connecticut and Midstate Medical Center, explained that many of the resources they will offer addicts, such as Suboxone treatment and connection to recovery coaches, are already available.

Brian Preleski, the State’s Attorney for New Britain, said connecting addicts to those resources is the primary goal of the program.

“We can get you into treatment, not tomorrow, not next week, no waiting list,” he said.

Getting people who are ready for help into treatment, rather than prolonging the process in the criminal justice system, can be critical to getting them on the road to recovery, he said.

“Quite frankly they may be less motivated in two weeks when they come to court to get that assistance,” he said.

Steven Mikkanen, 34, of Shelton said he had no idea what treatment options were available when he was suffering from a decade-long opioid dependency.

“I had no idea what addiction was or what I was up against,” he said.

He was caught in a cycle of arrest, release and relapse, he said. “They released me and I went back to the streets and still nowhere to go, no money.”

Mikkanen is now a homeowner, engaged to be married and is also studying to become a drug counselor at Gateway Community College. He believes giving people the option to get treatment instead of arresting them will help counter the feelings of guilt and shame that perpetuate their addictions.

Reducing time spent in the criminal justice system could also help recovering addicts continue moving forward. Mikkanen’s past continues to be a barrier to his goal of becoming a counselor, he said.

“It’s disheartening to say the least,” he said.

With the launch of the H.O.P.E. initiative, New Britain and Berlin police departments join Manchester and Enfield in saying they will not arrest anyone suffering from opioid addiction who asks for help.

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