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Roswell Angel Program lifts off

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RPD Chief Phil Smith speaks to those in attendance at the launch of the Roswell Angel Program Tuesday evening at the Roswell Police Department. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

A nationwide program aimed at giving help to those who struggle with opiate addiction was initiated in Roswell Tuesday.

A news conference held at the Roswell Police Department Tuesday evening explained the importance of the Roswell Angel Program.

“We adopted the program from the northeast,” said Roswell Police Department Chief Phil Smith. “(It) started in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and as I mentioned before, it’s a prereferral program.”

Smith said the program is designed to assist people before an arrest or any involvement with the court system.

“It’s to help our community members who wished they had assistance,” Smith said. “The Roswell community suffers from its drug problems and methamphetamines and opioids, marijuana — all of which this program in particular targets the opioids and painkiller-related addictions.”

Smith said the initiative is in direct response to the public health epidemic of opiates, methamphetamines and drug abuse in the Roswell community.

“The Roswell City Council, myself, with the cooperation of the Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder, the Roswell Fire Chief Devin Graham, and of course — Recovery Services, are prepared to address the multidimensional effects of substance abuse and how it affects our families and our community,” Smith said.

According to the RPD, the “Angels” from the program are officers, deputies, and firefighters at designated areas who take the time to personally bring the availability of the program to the attention of those struggling with opiate addiction.

“People wanting to enter the program can come to the Roswell Police Department (128 W. Second St.), the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office (1 Saint Mary’s Place) or one of three Roswell Fire Department stations (Station 2 at 501 E. McGaffey St.; Station 3 at 2800 Wilshire Blvd.; or Station 4 at 10 E. Challenger St.), the RPD said.

The police department also said those who show up at any of the five locations and request help will be transported by a police officer of sheriff’s deputy to Recovery Services of New Mexico at 1107 S. Atkinson Ave.

“If it is not during the center’s intake times, arrangements will be made to transport the person for intake as soon as possible, often with special arrangements being made to more quickly accommodate the intake,” the RPD said.

Smith said the Roswell Angel’s mission is to integrate public safety in collaboration with the public health to increase the quality of life by reducing the level of harm caused by active substance users.

“It is the Roswell Police Department’s perspective that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Smith said. “It is a pointless, endless and non-efficient way to handle it. We want to prevent victimization, and handle problems before they become crime-related.”

Smith said there are exceptions and disqualifications associated with the program, which include not having an outstanding warrant, any drug-related convictions which include possession with intent to distribute, trafficking, or violations in school zones.

Individuals under 18 who do not have parental consent cannot participate in the program, Smith said.

Smith said if the police officer meeting with a potential participant believes someone in the Angel Program could be seriously harmed by the participant, they will be disqualified.

“Not all addicts are criminals,” Smith said. “Addiction is a sickness. (It’s) nothing to be ashamed of, and we want to help our community members to fight it. This illness can be treated, and full-time treatment is actually a fraction of what incarceration costs our communities.”

Smith clarified with the Daily Record that if one who meets the mentioned criterion tries to get into the Angel Program and has drugs or drug paraphernalia, the drugs and paraphernalia will be disposed of and they will not receive a citation.

“This is not about arresting people,” he said. This is about helping. Again, we need you to participate, and we will help you.

“This program is going to require some time. It’s going to require some trust being built up. I think that the program, one of the other underlying effects of that is it develops more trust between the community.”

Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder said when he heard about the Angel Program several months ago, he could quickly see the positive impact the program could have on crime statistics in the communities.

“I knew that was something I wanted to be involved in,” Snyder said. “Everything we do is about trying to reduce the number of crimes that we have to deal with.

“For many years now, we’ve worked out trying to get people off drugs. What we’ve done for years has proven to be ineffective. In one way or another, drugs affect just about everybody in our community.”

The sheriff added, saying drugs and drug addictions are one of the leading causes of crimes in the community, especially violent crimes.

“Today, we come together to help make a difference in those addicted in our community,” Snyder said. “Cooperation and the building of relationships can make a real difference in our community, and I’m excited to see this cooperation happening here in Chaves County.”

Roswell Fire Department Chief Devin Graham said while the fire department’s role may be a small one, their involvement is crucial.

“It’s an important role to the program for a safe place for those seeking help to come to,” Graham said. “It’s a natural fit for the fire department to be a part of the program like this. Fire departments pride themselves on being fixers — we’re here to help. That’s the reason for our existence.”

Recovery Services of New Mexico’s chief executive officer Darren Webb also attended the conference, where he said Recovery Services is the largest opioid treatment program in the state.

Webb said when Recovery Services was looking to expand three or four years ago, they identified the overdose death rate in Chaves County and Roswell was disproportionate to the national average.

“We currently operate five offices, we employ over a hundred people, and we treat approximately 18,000 people a day,” Webb said. “Our objective is to make an impact, make a difference. We have high expectations in the people that work recovery, and the people that come there.”

Webb said Recovery Services looks at more than just the addiction proponent of patients.

“Because sometimes, the recovery process includes housing, or transportation, or employment, or medical services,” Webb said. “Everything we do for this particular office is best for this community.”

Nancy Dunnahoo, of Roswell, is a supervisor with Recovery Services. As a former addict herself, Dunnahoo said there remains to be a stigma associated with addicts, especially heroin users.

Still, throughout her career, Dunnahoo said she has encountered many success stories.

“I have like 30 to 40 clients right now that are almost out of the program, and their lives have just changed,” Dunnahoo said. “They’re working, they got a stable environment — their kids are happy.”

Webb said the process goes beyond treating the addiction, as they are also helping generations and families.

“(It’s) more than just the person you’re serving,” he said. “I think that’s a big deal.”

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.