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Image Credit: CNN

Nashville, NC – A police chief in a small eastern North Carolina town, Chief Thomas Bashore, in collaboration with town manager Hank Raper, began a program — using compassion instead of violence — known as the HOPE initiative that is both saving lives and lowering crime.

Nashville, North Carolina, a town of 5,400 offers a unique program to help addicts recover, rather than continue the cycle of crime and addiction, by allowing addicts to turn themselves into police with their drugs and paraphernalia, without being thrown in a cage.

Instead of them facing arrest, they get help getting into a program to fight addiction.

Thomas Spikes, 24, has battled addiction since before he was a teenager, and credits Bashore with saving his life by putting him on a path to recovery from the deadly scourge of opioid addiction.

“He saved my life for sure,” he said. “I owe a lot to him and the program.”

As opioid deaths continue to rise dramatically across the United States, replacing car accidents as the number one cause of unintentional deaths, the state of North Carolina has seen a more than 340 percent increase in opioid deaths from 2010 to 2016.

“There’s no clear characteristic of what a heroin or opioid addiction looks like,” Raper told CNN. “It’s not a white problem, it’s not a black problem, it’s not a Hispanic problem, middle class, working class, upper class. It affects all peoples of all walks of life.” 

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The HOPE initiative was modeled on the “Angel” program in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which allows addicts to safely get medical help and police assistance—without fear of being arrested. These innovative programs are creating a new paradigm that reconfigures the manner in which law enforcement responds to addiction.

“They walk into the front door, if they have drugs or paraphernalia on them at any time, they can turn it in to us at that time, and have no charges filed. And we facilitate them into recovery,” Bashore said.

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“We have actually had individuals who have brought in heroin bags and turned that over because they knew that they were going to get into recovery and they didn’t want that around when they got out,” Bashore said.

To ensure that there would be no impediments to the HOPE program, Chief Bashore and Raper recruited the county district attorney, who was on board with the initiative, ensuring that addicts seeking help would not be charged. With the support of the county attorney, the HOPE program began on Feb. 9, 2016—with the first addict coming into the police station seeking help only eight days later.

“It was eye-opening,” recalled Bashore. “That individual came in and we spent the better part of 7 and a half hours getting him processed. Only then did I leave the hospital and come back to the police department to start calling facilities to start having him placed, after he left detox. You can spend hours on the phone, calling facilities, saying, ‘Do you have a bed?'”

Bashore has been intimately involved in the program, driving many of the 172 men and women that have been helped by the HOPE initiative. Revealing the changing nature of law enforcement’s fight against drug addition—and a clear movement from a punitive “War on Drugs” mentality, to a recovery-based model—Bashore has worked to build personal relationships with numerous rehabilitation facilities across North Carolina.

The business cards he passes out even have his personal cellphone number so that rehab facilities across the state can personally alert him when a space opens up for an addict.

“My cellphone, it rings all the time,” Bashore said. “Each participant who comes through the program and all their family members have it. So, when they need something, they reach out.”

In addition to helping numerous addicts get clean, the HOPE initiative has substantially changed the dynamics between the police and the community. Bashore said he is working to help people understand that substance abuse is a disease and that his department’s goal is to “supportive not only for their benefit, but for the community benefit.”

Revealing exactly how this new approach by law enforcement, to drugs and addiction, can drastically alter crime rates, Bashore said that crime is down 40 percent since the program’s inception.

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“We’ve had a pretty significant drop in our crimes that are associated with substance-abuse disorder,” Bashore said. “Things like shoplifting and larcenies and breaking into cars.”

The beautiful thing is that HOPE does not limit its services to residents of Nashville, as people from across the state have taken advantage of the program—as well as people from as far away as California and Pennsylvania.

The initiative has no cost to participants in the program, and is funded through small grants, fundraisers, and donations.

“The chief paid for the first two months that I was there and the rehab I was at,” recalled Spikes. After spending over half his life in the grip of addiction, Spikes has now been clean for four months after leaving the rehabilitation facility.

In an interview with CNN, Spikes said that he first used drugs when he was 12 years old. “It started off with just smoking weed,” he said, “then occasional pills, and it progressed through the years.” Eventually, his addiction became a $200 to $300 a day habit at its worst.

After being caught with heroin and sent to jail in October 2016, he had his first encounter with Chief Bashore. Initially, Spikes was skeptical of any help police offered, and expressed a commonly held belief: “You don’t talk to cops, you don’t associate with them, they’re not your friends.”

Spikes’ perceptions quickly began to evolve when he recognized that Bashore was solely there to help him, no questions asked.

The chief “never tried to pry into anything in my life in that era,” Spikes said. “[He doesn’t] care who you hang out with, what kind of drugs you do.”

After having gone through countless rehab facilities in the past, Spikes said his life has changed because of Chief Bashore and the HOPE initiative.

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“He saved my life for sure because if it wasn’t for the HOPE Initiative, I wouldn’t have gotten help,” Spikes said. “My life has done a 180. I’m working, I have a vehicle, a house, I have a beautiful girlfriend with a baby on the way.”

This inspirational police chief decided that criminalizing addiction is a clear recipe for failure, and increased crime and death in his community—and made a decision to do something about it. By not comporting with the “get tough on crime” mentality that is often prevalent in law enforcement, Bashore is actually making a difference in people’s lives. He is also saving taxpayers money as the cost of rehabilitation is far less than prison, and it is being independently funded.

“Of those 172 people that have come through the program, I’ve actually been to two funerals. Knowing what the alternative could have been for Thomas … (who) just recently disclosed to me that his girlfriend’s pregnant, he’s going to be a father,” he said. “So, that’s an amazing thing. That touches me deeply.”

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Jay Syrmopoulos is a geopolitical analyst, freethinker, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs and holds a BA in International Relations. Jay's writing has been featured on both mainstream and independent media - and has been viewed tens of millions of times. You can follow him on Twitter @SirMetropolis and on Facebook at SirMetropolis.