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Erie County officials seek "angels" and funds for opiate addiction program

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

More than a dozen local law enforcement agencies are looking for some "angels" to help them in a new program that works with opioid addicts. The Poloncarz administration, meanwhile, is looking to free up the money that would pay for the program.

Known as Rapid Evaluation Appropriate Placement, or REAP, the program encourages people affected by opioid addiction to visit a local police headquarters. They would not be arrested. Rather, an officer would work with a community volunteer, or an "Angel," to arrange appropriate help.

Upon signing up, Angels would be contacted when necessary to report to the police department.

"They (Angels) would respond to a station house to do an initial evaluation of somebody who came to a station house to ask for assistance," said Dan Rinaldo of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, or HIDTA.

The Angel would contact Crisis Services' hotline for additional advice and instruction and, working with police and Crisis Services, determine the most appropriate action for treating the addict.

Officials say in order to get the program running, an estimated $375,000 is needed to expand Crisis Services and to hire two additional nurses for the Erie County Health Department. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the money is available but has been tied up in the Legislature's Finance and Management committee. He's urging lawmakers to take that funding off the table at this Thursday's committee meetings and make it available.

"I've called on them to release this from committee so that it could be approved at the next session, which would be the following Thursday," Poloncarz said. "If it gets approved we can move ahead with the program. If it doesn't, then we're going to have to wait at least another month."

Law enforcers and county health officials agreed at Monday's county Opioid Epidemic Task Force meeting that the county cannot afford to wait long to get REAP moving. The county has seen, on average, 11 deaths per week as the result of heroin or opioid overdoses.

"We can't arrest our way out of this," Rinaldo said. "There has to be other things that we do to help ease this crisis. Last year it claimed 262 lives in Erie County."

Police agencies involved, according to Rinaldo, are Amherst, Buffalo, Depew, Erie County Medical Center Police, Erie County Sheriff's Office, East Aurora, Evans, Hamburg, Lancaster, Niagara Falls, NFTA, Orchard Park and Town of Tonawanda.

More information on REAP, including how to volunteer, can be found by clicking on this link.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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