Baton Rouge advocates look to other city's opioid-fighting programs for inspiration

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Thomas Spikes is rebuilding his life after his addiction to heroin landed him in front of the police chief of his home town in Nashville, North Carolina.

"I had no desire to live at that time in my life," Spikes told CNN in an interview.

However, his next stop wasn't jail, it was rehab. This was thanks to a program started by the Nashville Police Department, called the HOPE initiative.

"They walk into the front door. If they have drugs or paraphernalia on them at any time, they can turn it into us at that time and have no charges filed. And we facilitate them into recovery," said Chief Thomas Bashore.

Like Baton Rouge, the North Carolina town is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Since their HOPE initiative launched in 2016, nearly 200 people have sought help by trading in their drugs for treatment, without fear of being arrested. The program was featured in a CNN segment, and it's one of many unique approaches to fighting opioids that Baton Rouge leaders are looking into.

"We believe we'll be able to implement some of that in the Baton Rouge area," said executive director for the Bridge Center, Kathy Kliebert. The Baton Rouge Bridge Center is working to connect the resources already available to those suffering from substance abuse and behavioral issues, so they can get help sooner.

"Coming up with basically a path where an individual who has a drug or a behavioral health problem can actually get into treatment before going to the hospital or going to jail," said Kliebert.

According to Kliebert, the Bridge Center just received a gr ant that will allow them to identify inmates in prison who may be in need of substance abuse rehabilitation and then place them in a program. Another resource in Baton Rouge is the O'Brien House, which provides detox, rehab, and counseling services. Their interim clinical director, Dawn André, agrees that working with law enforcement is an important part of addressing the bigger opioid issue.

"We have a reentry program here, so we're actually helping the community once people are coming out of the criminal justice system to be able to get into treatment," said André.

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