ASU partners with police and suicide prevention center to combat opioid epidemic

A syringe is left on the ground in a downtown Phoenix alleyway Oct. 28, 2019. (Nicole Neri/DD)

ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions received a $2 million four-year grant to evaluate a program that trains police officers how to respond to the emergency treatment of an opioid overdose.

The center was awarded the grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the federal First Responders-Comprehensive Recovery Act, according to an ASU Now article. 

The center is in collaboration Tempe police department and La Frontera EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center, a behavioral health agency in the Valley, on the program.

The grant allows officers to be equipped with Narcan to treat opioid overdoses. The city of Tempe is one of only 12 cities to receive the grant.

Dr. Michael White, professor at ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Associate Director at the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety will oversee the research and evaluation of the program.

White said there will be both process and impact evaluation that will help the City of Tempe and the police department understand the impact of the program.

“If we can get people into services, whether it be some substance abuse treatment, or maybe they need housing or maybe educational services or vocational stuff, just improving their lives, their quality of life and then reducing the likelihood that they will have another overdose,” he said.

The grant will allow the program to go beyond the administration of Narcan and EMPACT will enable the patient to undergo treatment and counseling following the overdose.

“(The grant) definitely expands the ability for us to identify individuals who have had an overdose from opioids and to be able to intervene and provide treatment when appropriate,” said Erica Chestnut-Ramirez, director of the Empact Suicide Prevention Center. “This grant allows us to do the follow up — as soon as someone is administered Narcan for a believed opioid overdose, our team is activated.”

Chestnut-Ramirez said that the program will lead to healthier communities. “We’re all about saving people’s lives, and, being able to have healthier, safer communities in general,” she said.

EMPACT offers a wide range of resources for patients recovering from opioid overdose. From 24 hour crisis hotlines to mobile crisis services and seven different clinics throughout Maricopa and Pinal county, EMPACT is one of the larger behavioral health agencies in the Valley.

White and Chestnut-Ramirez both emphasized that the opioid issue is an epidemic that crosses class, gender and racial lines.

“Some of the folks that struggle with opioid use and overdoses are our homeless people; some of them are probably ASU undergraduate and graduate students; some of them are moms and dads, so there is a significant problem,” White said.

Natalie Barela, media relations detective for Tempe police department, said “It is estimated that Tempe Police could administer Naloxone to about 155 overdose victims over the course of the four years of the grant.”

This grant will allocate a “supply of lifesaving naloxone” for every Tempe Police officer, Barela said.

She said that department estimates many of the patients will accept some level of ongoing services to try and end their addiction.

The partnership between the Tempe Police Department, EMPACT and ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community will provide resources for overdose patients.

“Just having a long standing relationship with our first responders has helped us to continue to build that relationship and continue to serve those who live in Tempe,” Chester-Ramirez said.

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