Treatment, not jail: Evolution in police responses to mental illness, addiction discussed in Rossford

ROSSFORD — Guest speakers from National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Wood County Addiction Response Coalition spoke on mental health and addiction issues for the seventh Rossford Citizen’s Police Academy class.

“We deal with this kind of thing, not every day, but frequently,” Rossford Police Chief Todd Kitzler said.

Nationally, 21% of law enforcement time is used to respond to and transport individuals with mental illness and 10% of law enforcement budgets were spent on those activities. Additionally, NAMI reports that nearly 50% of state psychiatric beds are used for individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

“It takes up a lot of our time and it takes up a lot of our resources,” Kitzler said.

As part of his introduction, Kitzler talked about the changes that have taken place related to mental health issues and policing.

“Back when I started, it was ‘you’re going to jail, and that’s it,” Kitzler said. “It’s not like that today.”

All of the Rossford officers go through training to work with individuals with mental health and drug addiction problems, with annual continuing education.

NAMI has a Crisis Intervention Team, mobile crisis units, specialized law enforcement training and central receiving centers.

NAMI Executive Director Jessica Hartman said that 84% of Wood County full-time sworn officers, or 181 of the 254 officers, have taken their training, which includes deescalation classes. In addition to the law enforcement officers, they also train dispatchers, fire, EMS, behavioral health professionals, corrections officers and nursing staff.

“The best place for a client to recover is in treatment, not a jail. This is not to just remove consequences, but to develop lasting change, which benefits clients and the community,” Hartman said.

Their crisis reports are used to make connections to mental health professionals, advocate within the community and identify needs within the community.

Dep. Kaleb Smith is with the Wood County Sheriff’s Office is the deputy on the Addiction Response Collaborative Quick Response Team, which is managed by Wood County Proscutor Paul Dobson.

“We want the individual to go back to a normal life after addiction,” Smith said.

Recidivism is a common problem for both mental health issues and addiction problems, he said.

“It takes a lot for the sheriff to take a deputy off the road,” Smith said of Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn’s dedication to intervention strategies.

Like other types of police work, it’s also a dangerous job.

Smith does not touch anything when he is with a probable addict, because of several potential dangers. Most prominently, fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin.

Smith said that a popular trend in the drug world is pressed pills. These are essentially homemade pills that look like candy, or counterfeited pills produced to look like legitimate drugs, such as Vicodin or Percocet. Regardless of what they are made to look like, they can have fentanyl in them “because it’s cheap.”

The dealers are also mixing fentanyl with cocaine, because it looks the same.

Fentanyl can be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.

Kitzler gave an example of when the Rossford Police Department might call in ARC.

The department recently was given the name of someone who was taking classes, for their job, in Rossford. A family member called them, saying that they were worried that the individual might overdose or kill someone in a car accident, because they were driving to class after using and then using in the parking lot after.

“Ten years ago, we would have sat on this guy and popped him,” Kitzler said. “But that doesn’t help in the long run.”

The ARC QRT had 90 referrals last year and has had 64 this year, with 27 seeking treatment. On the negative side, seven of the 90 referrals could not be helped, because they had fatal overdoses.

Smith takes his job seriously, and is very persistent.

“One individual, I went out to his house 30 times before he sought treatment,” Smith said. “The point of the program is to make the recidivism rate go down.”

Opioid overdoses can be halted through the use of naloxone. Project DAWN, which stands for Deaths Avoided With Naloxone, has free kits, but they are good for only a year.

NAMI can be contacted through www.namiwoodcounty.org or by calling 419-352-0626. Information on ARC is at www.woodcountyarc.com, or call the hotline at 419-373-3900.