Jennifer A. Burns, community engagement specialist, and Sgt. John Walsh, of the police department’s community outreach division, discussed Community Addiction Resources Engagement Services (CARES) in Methuen.
As the Merrimack valley wrestles with the opioid epidemic in particular and drug addiction generally, Methuen is finding some success with an outreach program called CARES—or Community Addiction Resources Engagement Services.
Appearing on Monday’s WHAV Open Mike Show Jennifer A. Burns, community engagement specialist, and Sgt. John Walsh, of the police department’s community outreach division, talked about how CARES is helping people receive treatment instead of jail time. Burns summarized what CARES is all about.
“It’s an umbrella of providing resources to individuals in need of services for opiates or other addiction-related treatment.”
She explained Methuen adopted the program by hiring her and Jacquelyn Ingersoll during October, 2015, after becoming involved with the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project two years earlier. CARES was also inspired by Gloucester’s Angel program where residents may turn over drugs and paraphernalia to police without fear of arrest, and ask for drug treatment.
Walsh, who is involved in community policing, said the department realized the problem is more complex than simply crime and punishment.
“I think we’re here today because police—certainly Methuen Police and statewide, and nationally, as a matter of fact—realize we can’t arrest ourselves, our way, out of this problem. So, we had to begin to look at it in a different light.”
Burns described an early scenario that has turned out to be typical of the many cases CARES addresses. “One of our first clients that came to us, came to us through her mom’s referral. And through that we were able to refer her into detox. From there, she went to a residential facility. She’s doing well now.”
Some people don’t have such support because they have burned bridges with family members. This is where the criminal connection often takes place. “Someone who needs money will probably go out and steal if they’re not making it. They steal from their loved ones. They commit crimes. So, it is undesirable behaviors that people engage in to get the substances that they want.”
Recovery, reducing repeat offenses, improving quality of life and reducing stigma are among the goals of CARES. She explained why reducing stigma is important.
“There’s a lot of societal stigma around that, which keeps people from getting treatment or seeking treatment,” Burns said.
Those addicted to drugs need not fear being arrested if they approach CARES since community engagement staff are not police officers, but rather civilians, as Walsh explained.
“We generally do not get involved on the police side. If we happen to come across people on the street with drugs, yes, we will arrest them. We’ll give them a referral and hopefully some point down the line that diversion we spoke about earlier will come into play.”
Burns said today’s jails have replaced the hospitals of the past where people went for treatment. “Our jails are the new institutions for people with addiction and mental health problems.”
Because the drug problem is regional, Methuen makes referrals across city and state lines. She explained CARES has developed treatment relationships as far as Florida. For those without medical insurance, she said there are “scholarships” available for free treatment.
For those seeking help, CARES can be reached by calling the Methuen Police Department. For immediate needs, people may visit the police station 24-hours-a-day. Others may call Burns directly at 978-701-7782 or Ingersoll at 978-701-8195.