Lisa Hoeschele, the executive director of Family and Children’s Counseling Services, wiped her eyes before she reached down, grabbed a blue felt pen, leaned over the table and signed the memorandum of understanding.
“It was just very emotional,” she said. “After last week’s Stone Soup event and now this, I’m really proud of our Cortland community and how we try to help each other.”
Her signature, along with a few others Wednesday at the county courthouse, including Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti’s, city Police Chief F. Michael Catalano’s and city Mayor Brian Tobin’s, formalized the beginning of a new program for drug addicts — the Police and Angel Assisted Recovery Initiative.
Under the Angel Program, which has no cost to Cortland or Cortland County, drug users can surrender themselves, their drugs and paraphernalia to city police and ask for treatment. That person would be checked for any warrants and detainers.
“PAARI cannot be used as a means to avoid responsibility for past alleged offenses that are unsolved, but presents an avenue to recovery for those who are ready to embrace sobriety,” reads a news release from Perfetti’s office.
If the addict does not have any warrants and detainers, the police officer will contact an “angel,” who will sit with the participant until that person is taken to Helio Health clinic by someone from Centers of Treatment Innovations.
“We want a warm handoff each step of the way,” Perfetti said.
Perfetti said Cortland County Legislator Doug Bentley (D-Cortland) was one of the first angels and got five others to participate. Other angels are Heath Phillips, Pam Jenkins, SUNY Cortland Professor Mechtild Nagel, Rick Nauseef and Pastor Jonathon North of Believers Chapel Church in Cortland.
“I’m so excited to see our county come together and want to make a change and want to kind of think outside the box of how can we really help the people that we’re all called to serve in some capacity,” North said.
The initiative was first revealed when Perfetti was running for office in 2016 and is based on a concept started in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Oswego has a similar program, which Perfetti said has helped about six people a year.
“When I announced the idea of the Angel Program, I figured the idea of declining to prosecute those afflicted by addiction was so logical in its simplicity that the implementation should quickly follow,” Perfetti said in his speech. “I was wrong on so many levels.”
Helio Health was just opening a 24-hour walk-in addiction treatment clinic 25 miles away in Syracuse and did not have plans to open a facility in the Cortland area. So Perfetti had to figure out how to get participants to the clinic in Syracuse.
It wasn’t until around September 2018 that the Family and Children’s Counseling Service received funds to establish the Centers of Treatment Innovation and after that Perfetti decided to see if he could get the organization to be a part of his initiative.
Catalano said the program will just give people another avenue to seek treatment.
“I can’t see where it’s a setback for anything. It’s just a positive initiative,” he said.
“It’s great we have a district attorney who has the foresight to help people,” Tobin said.
Perfetti said he will meet with chiefs of the other police agencies and include discuss them joining the program.
“What I will offer to other agencies is the ability to refer somebody to CPD to go into the program,” he said.