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Police treating opioid epidemic "not as a crime, but as a disease"

Willing to work with addicts to get them help
Posted at 6:03 PM, Apr 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 18:06:27-04

Buffalo Police say a drug overdose was the cause of a crash outside of the 7 Eyewitness News studios Monday night in downtown Buffalo.

Police had to use Narcan to revive the driver involved and several of our viewers are wondering why the driver is not yet facing any charges. 

Police say there is no double standard when it comes to drunk driving and drugged driving -- if you are under the influence, your car is considered a weapon – and it you hurt someone you will be charged.

In this case in front of our station, police said they couldn't do roadside sobriety tests because the driver was unconscious, therefore they had to do a blood test, which takes weeks to get the results. So the driver could still face charges.

But there is some truth to the idea that police departments including Buffalo, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Orchard Park are all treating the opioid epidemic differently – not as a crime, but as a disease. (Police, however, caution that they are still going after the drug dealers who peddle the illegal substances.)

That means that under programs like the REAP Initiative in Erie County, if you are an addict and you turn yourself in to a police station to ask for help, you will not be arrested. They will pair you with a volunteer “angel” who will take the steps to get you the help you need. Click here for more information on this program.

This is a change of policy that has taken place not just locally, but across the country as so many people grapple with what is being called the nation’s largest drug epidemic in decades. 

The Sheriff’s Office said that there is an understanding that "we're not going to arrest our way out of this,” and they and other agencies want to try new tactics to battle a new problem.