WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Several agencies in the Cape Fear region are working together to address the opioid epidemic in North Carolina. New data shows there were more than 1,100 opiate-related deaths in North Carolina in 2015, a 73 percent increase from 2005.
"Opioid addiction is devastating families across the nation," said Governor Roy Cooper. "This is a uniquely challenging crisis for our communities and will require a new level of collaboration between law enforcement, treatment providers, and those in recovery."
Eight agencies will gather Wednesday at the Wilmington Police Department to sign a joint Memorandum of Understanding to implement the LEAD program in the Wilmington area.
LEAD, which stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, is a program that launched in Seattle in 2011 in an effort to reinvent the way officers combat circumstances tied to crimes like drugs or prostitution.
A team of law enforcement from the New Hanover and Brunswick counties sheriff's offices along with Leland, Boiling Spring Lakes, Fayetteville, and Waynesville police departments traveled to Seattle in 2016 to see whether a new approach could work in their own jurisdictions. The Wilmington Police Department did not take part in the trip.
The biggest take away from the visit was that LEAD can be tailored to target any public issue, and centralizes on one simple question: "What do you need right now to stop doing this?"
If the officer asks that question and the person agrees to participate, law enforcement redirects them from an arrest to a LEAD case worker. Case workers can be called at any time of day and receive specialized training on dealing with LEAD participants.
It's the case workers job to first fulfill any immediate needs such as a safe place to sleep or a hot meal. Then the participant has a 30 day intake period to set up their case worker meetings and start addressing long-term needs like proper identification, housing, drug treatment and even job training.
Participants are given dates, times and a schedule to follow. If they do not show up for their appointments they are disqualified from LEAD. If they commit any violent crimes or threaten their case worker they are immediately removed from the program.
According to LEAD case workers in Seattle, the overwhelming majority of those offered LEAD will stick to their schedules.
"LEAD participants were 58 percent less likely to be arrested after enrollment in the LEAD program in Seattle, compared to those who went through the 'system as usual' criminal justice processing," according to the LEAD National Support Bureau's website.
This program is already operating successfully in Fayetteville and many other locations across the country.