She doesn’t know if it would have saved her son's life, but Marie Gerow does know a Hope Not Handcuffs program in St. Clair County would have at least given him one more option.
Gerow’s son, Daniel Gerow, 25, of Algonac, died Jan. 1 from a fatal heroin overdose.
At the time, he was on a waiting list to get into a detox and rehabilitation center.
“During the time a drug addict is waiting for a bed, they are not going to sit there and go through painful withdrawals, they will seek out the drug to get through it,” Gerow said. “And the most rehab he ever qualified for was 30 days and that is not enough. They wean you off and give you a bus token and there is no follow-up.”
Gerow said the Hope Not Handcuffs program could be a step in the right direction for the county. The program allows addicts to turn themselves into the police department where a volunteer will stay with them until room opens at a rehab facility. Addicts don’t have to fear being arrested. The program welcomes all addicts, but the majority have been opioid addicts so far.
Macomb County launched the program in January and has already placed almost 200 addicts into rehab facilities, said Macomb County Judge Linda Davis, who is the president of the Michigan Family Against Narcotics chapters and co-founder of Hope Not Handcuffs.
“We actually thought it would start out really slow, but we just got slammed at the beginning,” she said. “The first three weeks we placed 76 people. It’s slowed down since then.”
Davis said the program has about 200 volunteers who have signed up to sit with addicts and to call detox facilities until an open bed is found. Patients have been placed in facilities locally in Macomb County, and as far away as Florida, Arizona and California. Davis said if those seeking help have insurance it is typically easier to find an available bed outside of Michigan.
“Our challenge is detox beds,” Davis said. “We have a tremendous need for detox beds. Heroin addicts can’t be sent home to detox on their own; it’s too painful.”
Another challenge faced was finding locations where addicts could “turn themselves in.” Some smaller police departments are not staffed regularly. Some departments have certain hours that addicts are able to turn themselves in while others are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But the program has seen results in Macomb County so far, Davis said.
“There were some police officers who at first said they didn’t think it would work, but now they have said it has worked really well,” Davis said. “And I was in one police department and the officers were so respectful of the person that came in, it is really changing attitudes and people have the willingness to help now and it’s been amazing.”
St. Clair County Undersheriff Tom Buckley said the sheriff department supports the idea of bringing the program to the Blue Water Area completely.
We realized a long time ago when it comes to addiction it’s not something arrests can fix,” Buckley said. “We do have a good substance abuse treatment in the jail but that’s not for everybody, and our goal is to arrest dealers and people creating addicts, not the addicts themselves; they are not our target.”
Buckley said while there has been talk of bringing the program to St. Clair County, someone needs to take the reins to be the overseer of the program and to organize volunteers.
The other aspect of the program is follow-up support. When addicts who came into the Hope Not Handcuffs program exit their detox program, they are matched with a peer coach that mentors them through meetings, finding housing, finding a job and any other struggles that might be present. Davis said the peer coaches are like “super sponsors.”
Howard Colby, Blue Water Area FAN board president, said he has been having conversations with local police departments and with the Hope Not Handcuffs founders to figure out how the program could be doable in St. Clair County.
Colby said there are still many questions that need to be answered such as: Where will addicts turn themselves in? Does the county have enough detox beds? And how are volunteers managed?
“With opioid use, if (addicts) don’t get in quick, they lose the desire to reach out for recovery,” Colby said. “They have a better chance for success if they get in at their point of desperation.”
Last week in Marine City, an informational Hope Not Handcuffs meeting was held to discuss the possibilities of the program. The Marine City Fire Hall was packed with former addicts, parents of addicts, recovery advocates and concerned community members.
“We need (Marine City) to buy in to this,” said Lisa Hendrick, Marine City commissioner who helped coordinate the meeting. “Until the city buys in, there’s not much we can do yet. The police department needs to be on board, the commission needs to be on board.”
Hendrick said Marine City has been hit terribly hard by the opioid epidemic. She said multiple young lives have been lost due to fatal overdoses.
“It’s time. We need to do something to start saving these people, the volume of deaths around here is just terrible,” she said. “It’s going to take some time, but we are going to try to do the best we can.”
Contact Nicole Hayden at (810) 989-6279 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @nicoleandpig.Times Herald