Police program to help drug addicts into recovery comes to Cuyahoga County

Berea, Olmsted Township police team up for PAARI
Posted at 8:57 PM, Aug 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-19 21:16:40-04

Police chiefs from Berea and Olmsted Township have teamed up to bring a budding nationwide program to help addicts get help in Cuyahoga County. PAARI program, which stands for Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, is funded through scholarships or covered by insurance and comes at no cost to the public.

Addicts must voluntarily walk into a participating police department and instead of being arrested or charged, they are helped into a 28-day recovery program.

Nicole Walmsley, a former addict and now Ohio's state representative for PAARI, knows how difficult getting clean can be. She was jailed 18 times and spent 496 in institutions or behind bars.

But after a bad overdose, she knew her life had to change. She walked into a police department and asked for help.

"I was desperate. I didn't want to die," she said.  "Those are the ones that are going to be more successful than the ones that are court ordered to treatment or their parents force them into recovery."

Walmsley believes PAARI, because it is voluntary, is a program with real results.

"You can't release them with nothing or they'll go back to the same people, places and things," she said.

Berea Police Chief Joe Grecol said the current heroin epidemic is the worst he's ever seen in his career. Both he and Olmsted Township Chief Matt Vanyo agreed their tactics had to change -- the process of arresting, prosecuting and locking up addicts is clearly not working.

"We're here to protect and serve and this is one extra way to serve," Vanyo said.

"I cannot imagine how hard it must be to kick an addiction like this. But to those people that are brave and strong enough and fortunate enough to have some place to go and get support -- I think we owe them that," Grecol added.

The pair will introduce their joint program, called Safe Passages, on Thursday, August 25 at 6 p.m. It will be held at the German Club on 7030 Columbia Rd. in Olmsted Township.

Lodi was the first city in Ohio to adopt PAARI earlier in 2016. There are currently 10 programs statewide. Nationwide, Walmsley said PAARI has a 70 percent recovery rate.