Plymouth Police Department Makes Strides in Saving Lives and Changing Attitudes While Combatting the Opioid Crisis

Last year, Plymouth was one of six towns that received an award for lifesaving efforts from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

After participating in the sheriff’s campaign to battle the opioid epidemic that has become rampant across the country, the Plymouth Police Department’s already major efforts became even more effective.

Plymouth recently implemented the use of Narcan to combat opioid overdose symptoms, helping to battle the local overdose rate. When used effectively, Narcan is considered the antidote for those who have potentially overdosed, Plymouth Police Chief Michael Goldstein explains. Plymouth first responders have Narcan on hand because of its potential to save the lives of drug users who may have overdosed.

Narcan is one of many steps that Plymouth police  are taking to tackle the larger problem of drug addiction, specifically when it comes to the opioid crisis. Statistics show the problem is seen among all ages and socioeconomic communities, and Goldstein agrees that no community is immune.

From teenagers to older men and women, Goldstein says there is no specific age group that is more at risk for opioid addiction than others. Goldstein says usage begins in two different ways among all groups: progression from other drugs, and addiction stemming from using opioids that had initially been medically prescribed. Goldstein explains that the police department has seen many cases where an addict experimenting with less potent drugs such as marijuana has progressed to opioids and became addicted through that path. Opioids have become readily available for those who seek them, and drug users looking to try something new can come across them quite easily through dealers.

Then there are people who have been prescribed pain medication for use after surgery. They can become easily addicted, Goldstein says. After the prescription runs out, the addiction doesn’t stop, and users start looking for a new way to acquire the drug. Opioids are inexpensive, potent and easy to find, making it possible for addicts to find a replacement for their prescribed pain pills, explains Goldstein.

To combat this overwhelming issue, the Plymouth Police Department is working hard to educate the community about opioids and their effects while still responding in a productive way to addicts.

Many readers may remember the D.A.R.E program from their early education. The program continues in Plymouth grade schools. D.A.R.E has specific programs designed for different age groups, working to prevent addiction early, rather than cure it later.

The D.A.R.E. website explains how early education programs focus on decision-making and self-management skills, which encourage a child’s ability to recognize the harm in opioid use. Junior high classes discuss more specifics about drugs and their negative effects.

The Police Department has also offered to provide school resource officers to Plymouth middle and high schools. These are official law enforcement officers placed in schools to help protect children from opioid addiction, or in some instances, from opioid overdose.

The Plymouth police department makes sure that education doesn’t stop in the classroom. They host symposiums to educate those whom the typical drug education programs usually don’t reach, such as college-aged people and parents.

In addition to education, the Plymouth police have other ways to help fight this epidemic. They participate in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Take-Back program, where citizens can drop off medications that aren’t being used so they can be properly disposed of. Correctly disposing prescription drugs is crucial, otherwise they may end up in the wrong hands, according to Goldstein.

One resource the police can offer to help Plymouth residents is a product called Deterra Drug Deactivation System. Residents can stop by the police station and ask for the product, then place medications in a bag that they fill with water, according to Goldstein. A charcoal substance alters the medication so that it no longer has addictive properties. The bag can then be thrown away.
The Plymouth Police Department wants the public to know that the opioid crisis is not a law enforcement issue—Goldstein addresses it as an issue of health care and a larger social issue. This leads officers to ask an important question: How can they help addicts?

Because of opioids’ high potential for addiction, addicts can go through their supply quickly and need to resort to extreme measures to support their addiction, Goldstein says. Often these measures include theft or robbery. Because of these acts, addicts enter the legal system, and police must make an important distinction between whether these actions are criminal behavior or desperateness because of addiction.

Chief Goldstein leans towards helping the addict with tools for addiction recovery. Rather than punishing the addict for an unfortunate addiction, he believes the better option is to prevent them from committing another crime in the future. “Not all addicts should go down the same path,” he says.

While there is often a knee-jerk reaction to send addicts to jail, Goldstein wants our society to grow past that response. Recovery ensures that addicts have an opportunity to grow past their reaction, rather than letting it define them with a negative history involving law enforcement.

With this in mind, the Plymouth Police Department believes it isn’t the addict who should be punished. Rather, the law should be going after the suppliers. Goldstein says the police are trying to curb the demand for opioids by taking the opioid suppliers out of the picture. With less supply, there is less demand that can be fulfilled, cutting the rate for how much addicts can support their addiction.

What’s important, says Goldstein, is to recognize the suppliers are the problem and not the addicts. The police department plans to make sure the public receives this message to help eliminate the stigma around addiction. Goldstein believes the best way to accomplish this is with community discussion.

Education is important, but the Plymouth Police Department doesn’t want to stop there. “We can’t pretend the problem doesn’t exist,” Chief Goldstein says. His emphasis is on the importance of the community coming together to understand this larger problem.

Education is an important aspect of this issue, but Chief Goldstein encourages Plymouth residents to think beyond the education and apply the knowledge to the problem as it manifests in real life.  

Through  conversation with the community, the police department believes that Plymouth can develop the right resources to combat the problem. The goal is not to normalize opioid use, but understand that it is an issue affecting Plymouth, along with the entire country, according to Goldstein.

By recognizing that suppliers are more at fault than addicts and by being aware of the severe consequences of opioid use, groups can be formed for those who may have an addiction and one day want to overcome it. Supportive family and friends, along with  support groups, can be mobilized to help tackle the problem.

Plymouth has made great advancements in fighting drug addiction. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has created a safe place for young addicts to go to improve their future. As Chief Goldstein says, not all addicts’ stories have to end the same way.

Says Goldstein, “The more the community is willing to support recovering addicts, the more support and recovery mechanisms become [available] to those who need it, creating more of a chance for addicts to recover and grow from their addiction. Recovery becomes less about shaming an addict to get better, and  more about allowing them to feel not only okay, but comfortable about getting better.”  

Help for people experiencing addiction:

SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Narcotics Anonymous Minnesota: