MENOMONIE, Wis. -- A new collaborative program to address a drug problem in Dunn County that can lead to illegal activity was unveiled Thursday by law enforcement, human services and nonprofit officials.
The initiative is called Project Hope’s Quick Response Team and Angels of the Red Cedar. The intent is to involve law enforcement officers and human services representatives to identify individuals who suffer from substance use disorders and are at risk of committing crimes to work with the individuals to get treatment. The initiative also includes providing safe places for individuals to turn in drugs or paraphernalia without fear of arrest and to start down the road to recovery.
“This is all about creating pathways to treatment,” said Eric Atkinson, Menomonie chief of police and a driving force behind this new initiative. “The goal is to improve the quality of life for those who have a substance abuse disorder and help them get back into society again.”
“Dunn County is a strong supporter of this effort, which will have the twin effects of improving the quality of life for individuals who are abusing drugs and reducing the jail population, saving the county precious tax dollars,” said Kris Korpela, Dunn County manager.
"I support Project Hope because I grew up in Menomonie and I have watched too many people become addicted to methamphetamine,” said Menomonie Mayor Randy Knaack. “It has destroyed the lives of people we all know and love. Addiction affects all of us, so let's all make a difference and support Project Hope. The future is ours."
The initiative was announced at a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Menomonie City Hall. The conference was attended by city, county and nonprofit officials.
Here’s how the program works:
A quick response team that consists of a behavioral health officer (either a city police officer or county deputy sheriff), a paramedic from the Menomonie Fire Department, and a social worker from Dunn County Human Services identify individuals who have either suffered non-fatal overdoses or are addicted to methamphetamine or opioids or both.
The QRT attempts to get the individual treatment for their substance use disorder. If the individual accepts treatment, the QRT conducts a "warm handoff" by delivering the individual to a treatment provider. The QRT also can assist in getting the individual financial assistance for treatment.
The individual also will have available through the QRT wraparound support services, including transportation, food, shelter, or other needs that could be barriers for people recovering from substance use disorders.
A second aspect of the effort is the Angels of Red Cedar initiative, which provides safe locations in Dunn County for individuals with drug problems to turn in drugs or paraphernalia without fear of arrest and seek treatment. Those who use the safe locations and ask for help will be assisted by members of the QRT. The safe locations are the Menomonie Fire Department and Menomonie Police Department.
A form of Project Hope has been available for juveniles in Dunn County for about two years, Atkinson said, and has seen a reduction of 75 percent in children being referred to the juvenile justice system for criminal activity. Details on the youth Project Hope initiative are available here.
Watch this video for more information about Project Hope.
A recording of the press conference can be found here.