Jasmine Daniels poses Thursday outside the Augusta Police station. The licensed behavioral health clinician will work with law enforcement to help meet the needs of individuals with substance use disorder. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — Help is coming to the streets of Augusta for those addicted to drugs and ready to seek help, part of efforts to fight the opioid epidemic and prevent it from taking still more lives than it already has.

A new state-funded program will embed licensed behavioral health clinician Jasmine Daniels with Augusta Police. She will respond separately from public safety personnel to drug overdoses or calls involving people with substance use disorder.

Daniels will offer short-term counseling, assist them in finding help and work to decrease the likelihood they will die due to drug use.

Augusta police tried a diversion program in 2017 and 2018, said Augusta Police Chief Jared Mills, but it never really took off, failing to draw many participants.

That program offered people caught with illegal drugs but not believed to be dealers the option of going into a treatment program instead of facing criminal prosecution. Mills said city police still take part in a similar diversion program with the Kennebec County District Attorney’s office.

But, he said, addicts generally aren’t likely to reach out to a police officer for help.

They would be more likely, Mills said studies show, to reach out for help from someone like Daniels. She has already been working in central Maine helping people experiencing behavioral health crises.

Daniels will be out in the community offering help and a path to treatment, without the threat of also being arrested.

“The paradigm has shifted. This is a disease, an illness, rather than a crime, that’s how our thought process has changed,” Mills said. “If you’re addicted to drugs, the last person you want to be around is a police officer.

“So this is us taking a step back, as law enforcement, and letting treatment pave the way and be the priority at that point,” he added. “We’d document the situation, if we’re involved, in a report, but the priority at that point would be taking the person to get treatment, not getting them a court date.”

Daniels, a 36-year-old Augusta native, has previously worked as an overnight crisis worker and team leader in Crisis and Counseling’s mobile triage program, in which she worked to help people in behavioral health crisis.

“I really care about Augusta, I grew up here, I was born and raised here, and I want to be part of the change that happens in the community,” she said. “There will be a learning process, so what we do will be fluid. But the goal will be the same. To reduce the amount of overdose death that is occurring in our community.”

Daniels will get referrals of people in need of help from Augusta police and fire personnel. She hopes to eventually be able to use a map to provide email alerts when there is an overdose.

She also will be willing to meet with people in the emergency room, and plans 30-, 60- and 90-day follow-ups with people after she first interacts with them.

“We’re prioritizing nonfatal overdoses but will also meet with people who want substance use treatment,” Daniels said. “I’ll meet with them, figure out where they are, and we have some assessment criteria to help determine the appropriate level of care.”

She also will help drug users who may not be ready to quit, focusing on harm reduction if they’re resistant to treatment. That could include getting them fentanyl testing strips, Narcan for an overdose and educating users about exchanging needles to help prevent the spread of disease.

Daniels said the idea is to start the program embedded with Augusta police, but later expand to take referrals throughout Kennebec County.

Mills said Daniels, well versed in addiction, recovery and treatment, will be better able than a police officer to help those who need to connect to services. He said she also will be able to respond to help homeless people find housing.

“All we have now, basically, is a list in the lobby, that says if you need help, call this number,” Mills said. “The liaison (Daniels) will get to know people in the community, and be there with them regularly, so when they’re ready to get the help, they are here to provide it.”

The new program is funded through Gov. Janet Mills’ OPTIONS initiative, a state program introduced last year to help drug addicts get help.

The initiative, which stands for Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety, is meant to assist those suffering from substance use disorders and curb fatal opioid drug overdoses. Mobile response teams are expected to be established in every Maine county, focusing on communities that have high rates of drug overdoses.

Jared Mills said the program is modeled after one in Portland that he said has been pretty successful. He said Lewiston Police have started a similar program with an OPTIONS worker.

Chief Mills said there currently is help available for drug addicts, made available as part of ongoing efforts to fight the opioid addiction crisis.

Daniels said Crisis and Counseling has maintained some open spots specifically for her to refer clients to for counseling services.

Chief Mills said people looking for a referral to the program can call Augusta police, or Daniels directly at 207-446-3304. More information on the program is available at crisisandcounseling.org/services/options/. The Maine Crisis Line, which is available around the clock seven days a week, is 888-568-1112.

The program is funded for four years. The Kennebec County program is budgeted to receive $83,500 each of those years, meant to cover the liaison’s salary and benefits, and ongoing professional development costs, program supervision, the cost of Naloxone distribution and other operating expenses.

Augusta police also work with a state mental health intensive case manager, Greg Smith, who assists police when they respond to calls involving someone who may be in a mental health crisis. The department has also worked with Crisis and Counseling service providers in the past on calls involving people in crisis.

Daniels isn’t concerned for her own personal safety in responding to calls, noting there are safety protocols in place. When she’s working in Augusta, the city’s public safety dispatch center will keep tabs on her; when she’s outside the city, her crisis team will do so.

Daniels said the risk is no greater for her than in her behavioral crisis response work.

“That’s the expectation, that you get out and help people,” she said.

Her schedule may change based on community needs, but initially she is expected to work from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. or noon to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday. If an overdose occurs when she’s not on the clock, Daniels will reach out to the person when she returns to work.

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