WHEN A WOMAN experienced an opioid overdose during a morning breakfast service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Eugene, Ore., church staff quickly administered naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse an overdose.
Then the police arrived, lights blazing, according to Bingham Powell, rector at St. Mary’s.
Police interference during a drug overdose or mental-health crisis can often turn deadly, putting some of society’s most vulnerable further at risk for harm. Thankfully, when the officers arrived on the scene at St. Mary’s that day, no one was killed. But a police response can also impair the situation in other ways. The woman who had overdosed became frightened by their presence and left.
“This isn’t a story of police misconduct,” Powell said. “It’s just a story of the police showing up, and it caused the person to run away and not get the help they needed.”
What if someone else had arrived on the scene first? In Eugene, it’s entirely possible that they could have. For nearly three decades, the city has been home to CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), an emergency-response program that sends experienced unarmed crisis counselors and EMTs in response to mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness-related crises. The program has become a model for other cities looking to shift community resources away from armed policing in favor of social services.