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The Griffith Police Department promises to get you into drug treatment.

The department has joined several other local law enforcement agencies in offering to connect any addict who walks through its doors with treatment.

Griffith police recently joined forces with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI. That program started at a Massachusetts police department, where any drug addict who asked for help was immediately brought to a hospital and placed in rehab without fear of arrest.

"Unfortunately, it seems we as a nation are a step behind in addressing heroin addiction and other addictions," said Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance.

"By the time someone reaches the courts, their addiction has spiraled out of control and put a strain on the criminal justice system. We're trying to address addiction before it becomes a criminal issue."

This is the latest effort to make drug treatment more easily accessible in Northwest Indiana, home to an opioid overdose crisis that is killing several Region residents a month.

Since the initial program went into effect in 2015 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that city has seen its overdose death rate drop from about one a month to just two in two years, while its addiction-related crime rate has fallen by 30 percent, said PAARI Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade.

"It connects people to treatment before they get to the point where they're committing crimes to support their addictions," she said.

Seven people died of drug overdoses in Griffith last year, according to the Lake County coroner's office. The Griffith Police Department responds to about one or two overdoses a week, Mance said.

Officers David Borgetti and Richard Merschantz have been on many of those calls. About a year ago they started talking about how their department might help stem the opioid epidemic.

"Just putting drug offenders into jail and releasing them isn't solving anything," Borgetti said. "We were looking for alternative ways."

They found an article online about PAARI. They brought the idea to Mance, who was immediately on board.

The Police Department says it will get any addict who calls or walks in asking for help, 24 hours a day, into treatment within six to 12 hours. In the meantime, a volunteer "angel" from the Big Book Legacy Group in Griffith, a 12-step recovery center, will come talk to and even transport the addict.

"We will offer our experience, strength and hope for recovery," said Bill Marvel Jr., president of the Big Book Legacy Group. "We will have people who have all been exactly where that person has been from an emotional standpoint."  

Griffith police also will offer the program to anyone they respond to for an overdose. A couple of weeks ago, the department got an opioid overdose victim into a detox center in Plymouth within two hours.

PAARI has a nationwide network of participating treatment programs that are open 24-7 and offer financial scholarships. Locally, Griffith police are partnering with Heartland Recovery Center in Lowell, Recovery Works in Merrillville and the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Gary.

LaPorte city and county and Michigan City cops also are part of PAARI.

Schererville police started a similar program this month in partnership with Heartland Recovery Center. That department has already referred three people to treatment.

Mance said Griffith police's new initiative fits with the department's proactive approach to preventing crime. The agency has a social services resource officer that connects residents to community supports and plans to add a behavioral health worker in the next year.

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.