BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — The Battle Creek Police Department knew they had to do something about the rising heroin and opioid epidemic. Since mid-January, 51 people overdosed and seven others died.
“Our call load was really high,” said BCPD Police Chief Jim Blocker during an interview at the station. “When we got in a room with our hospital staff, our medical community and our first responder community, we realized that the numbers that we had weren’t even telling us the full story.”
Blocker said when his team of officers got together with medical professionals from Bronson Battle Creek and Summit Pointe, the local mental health agency, they all saw the same rise in overdoses and deaths. So they began brainstorming ways to tackle the issue head-on.
“They’re really the experts that we would look to and say 'how can we work with you and support a collaborative effort to try and address this,'” said Blocker. “Not necessarily solve the problem but try to abate the problem.”
Earlier this year, a few of them traveled to the Northeast to learn about the ways officers there were combatting the epidemic, Blocker said. In Massachusetts alone, there were over 1,000 heroin and opioid-related deaths in 2015.
“We learned they had some significant and phenomenal programs,” said Blocker about meeting with the Boston Police Department. “Law enforcement was taking a proactive approach about addressing this as a health issue and not necessarily as a criminal issue.”
BPD had established programs that helped addicts to stay alive and get clean, said Blocker. BCPD learned of a similar program in Ypsilanti through something they called an Engagement Center for people looking to kick the habit. He and Jeannie Goodrich, CEO of Summit Pointe, took a trip to see what it was all about. Within weeks of returning they found a building located at 215 East Roosevelt Avenue to start a center of their own, scheduled to open in the Fall.
“It’s a place where law enforcement, after medical screening, can take someone that has suffered through an episode or an overdose,” said Blocker about the facility funded by the Community Foundation. “Where they are able to stay overnight or for a few days and receive the counseling and the encouragement and hopefully the enticement to start to think about stepping away from drugs and illegal drug use.”
Blocker said they know their program won’t eliminate the epidemic. Heroin is cheap and easy to buy and sell. But it’s a start.
“Behind every death is a story, is a family member and simply a tragedy,” said Blocker. “These things can be prevented.”