Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin and Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol Administrator Layne Turner announced a new program being launched in Lehigh County to help in the fight against opioids and substance abuse: Blue Guardian.
Blue Guardian is an initiative involving the District Attorney, the Lehigh County Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center, police departments in Lehigh County and the Lehigh County Department of Drug and Alcohol. The program will endeavor to use the existing relationships between police and their communities to assist individuals and their families plagued by opioid addiction in accessing treatment.
Blue Guardian will be a component in the larger Illicit Drug Identification and Tracking System currently being developed by RIIC Director Julia Kocis and software consultants from Computer Aid, Inc. The RIIC received a $250,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to create the IDITS application as a better mechanism for data collection and analysis of drug-related investigations and deaths, drug trends, emergence of new drugs and those drugs of greatest concern.
Additional funding of $125,000 was provided from the Lehigh County Department of Drug and Alcohol through the Opioid State Targeted Response Funding and the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Program to build out the Blue Guardian segment within the IDITS application. Law enforcement will have the ability to enter information on Naloxone administration and the data will be available to resources assigned to perform treatment outreach.
In 2014, the General Assembly enacted Act 139 which provides immunity from prosecution for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia for those individuals who experience a drug overdose. This immunity extends to any individual who seeks medical assistance for the overdose victim so long as certain criteria are satisfied. With this act, the state sought to encourage friends, families and/or bystanders to summon assistance where in the past they may have hesitated to do so for fear of prosecution.
“I want to assure everyone that this act will be scrupulously followed and no such prosecution will be pursued in Lehigh County,” Martin said.
Blue Guardian will be implemented using data obtained after officers of local police departments administer Naloxone, the medication which reverses an opioid overdose. Naloxone has been used more than 200 times per year by Lehigh County police departments.
Currently after an overdose reversal, the individual is transported to a local hospital for medical treatment. Through existing programs, these individuals are provided the opportunity to access treatment. Unfortunately, many times individuals do not accept the offered resources and return home.
Blue Guardian is a home support visit which will occur 48 to 72 hours after the initial event.
A uniformed police officer and a certified recovery specialist from Treatment Trends, a local substance abuse treatment provider, will go to the home and reengage the individual or family and provide resources to both. The face-to-face contact will be made by an officer of the police department where the individual resides, which may differ from where the incident occurred.
By joining law enforcement and treatment supports together in meeting an individual and family members where they live, barriers and obstacles which exist can be lessened. Concurrently, support can be given to those in need. The ultimate goal is twofold: getting the individual into the treatment needed and providing resources to the person’s family.
Lehigh County is at, or exceeds, state averages in the number of overdose deaths, treatment admissions and use of Naloxone. This is striking, given the fact the overdose death rate in Pennsylvania increased from 26.7 per 100,000 in 2015 to 36.5 per 100,000 in 2016, according to the Analysis of Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania, 2016, a study done at the University of Pittsburgh. Lehigh County finished 2017 with over 200 drug-related deaths, an increase of over 40 from the prior year.
“No one entity can save our citizens and communities. However, I believe partnerships and collaborations like Blue Guardian will have an impact. It is with these unique partnerships that positive changes can occur,” Martin said. Martin also thanked the police chiefs, their departments and their municipalities for their cooperation and participation in the program.
“It is our desire to further extend our resources into all of our communities. I believe Blue Guardian will be a valuable tool in accomplishing that and, consequently, in fighting the opioid epidemic and battling substance abuse,” Martin said.
“The collaborations from the Blue Guardian application in IDITS will help improve the service delivery and data sharing among multiple partners, as well as provide a vehicle for individuals to access treatment,” Turner said.