County hears details of Chatham Cares 4 U program

HUDSON– Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann briefed the county Opioid Epidemic Response Committee early this month on his department’s Chatham Cares 4 U Outreach program, which gets opioid abusers and others in opioid crises into treatment promptly. The chief also explained more about the program–the only one of its kind in the county–in a follow-up telephone interview.

All Chatham Police positions are part time, but each officer’s duties include handling Chatham Cares 4 U as cases arise, Chief Volkmann said. This includes all steps necessary to place people with opioid problems in facilities providing the treatment they need: determining the type of treatment facility a person needs; finding out the person’s insurance coverage; coaching the person on how to answer insurance questions; finding a bed for the person in an appropriate facility; and driving the person to the facility.

Treatments options include detoxification, assistance and monitoring. Most facilities provide only one of these types of treatment. Once the police officer has determined what type of treatment a client needs, finding a facility “is not a bed problem, it’s an insurance problem,” the chief said.

To find treatment for an individual, police officers call facilities that provide the type of treatment the individual needs, sometimes one after another, until the officer finds one that will accept the individual and the individual’s insurance. The officer then drives the individual to the treatment facility in an unmarked car if one is available. The last thing the officer says before dropping the individual off at the facility is, “You’re a good person. You can do this.” Chief Volkmann also gives the addicted person his cell phone number.

Chatham police are instructed to treat requests for help overcoming opioid problems as “calls for service, just like if you have a burglary and call us,” the chief said. “I became a cop to save lives, not arrest people. As a police chief, I want to help people with a medical condition get help before they go to jail. All I know is that as a person sitting here, I can’t sit and watch kids die. Too many people were dying, we needed to get them treatment.”

Chief Volkmann initiated Chatham Cares 4 U last July after learning about a similar program in Gloucester, MA. “Our goal was to get 30 people into treatment a year,” he said, adding, “Instead, we’ve gotten 79 in eight months.”

He said SUNY Albany is studying Chatham’s program and other police agencies have been referring individuals who need treatment for opioid abuse to the Chatham Police Department. The beds the village police have found so far have been in six different counties in the state. They helped a family that called from Utica find a bed near that city.

Some addicted people seeking help “at first thought it was a scam to arrest them,” said Chief Volkmann. He said one heroin addict told him: I can’t believe I’m in a police station. A person from Rensselaer County was dropped off in this county by his father, who said he was sorry and that the family loved the man but would never allow him to live at home again.

The chief said that police are trained to transport people in crisis but that officers also spend time on the phone talking with people they’ve transported to a recovery facility and their families.

Chief Volkmann said what impressed him about the Gloucester program was that of opioid abusers it put into treatment, “50% stayed clean in the first year.” Nationwide, he said, the average is between 3% and 5%. It is too early to determine the first year stay-clean rate for the Chatham program.

At the March 2 meeting Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) asked, “How are you recouping funds?”

“We’re not,” Chief Volkmann answered. “It’s a service.”

The subcommittee is preparing a plan to respond to the opioid abuse crisis and agreed to send the draft to the Health and Human Services Committee and then the full Board of Supervisors, probably at its April meeting.

“Why are you waiting for the full Board?” Chief Volkmann asked. “What are you doing today? We want to do something today, not tomorrow.”

The county plan “won’t preclude what you’re doing now,” answered Matt Murrell (R-Stockport), chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “We don’t want you to stop what you’re doing now.” The county plan, he said, includes learning about existing programs and seeing where they must be supplemented, not replacing them.

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