Rhode Island State Police Unveils Innovative Opioid Outreach Initiative

HOPE Initiative partners law enforcement officers with substance use counselors across the state to reach out to those at risk of overdose

Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety, today introduced the HOPE (Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort) Initiative, which is believed to be the first statewide program in the country to engage law enforcement personnel in a proactive outreach strategy to combat the opioid overdose epidemic.The program will bring together clinicians, recovery coachesand members of law enforcement with the mission of reaching out to those who are at risk of overdosing and working to engage them in treatment and recovery support services.


“The HOPE Initiative empowers police officers across the state to take a powerful, proactive approach to combatting the opioid epidemic,” Colonel Assumpico said. “Instead of waiting for the next overdose to happen, we will be out there helping people get the treatment they need to save their lives.”


The program kicked off with a daylong training program for more than 80 state and local law enforcement officers who will be participating in the initiative. They will be partnering with clinicians and recovery coachesin their communities to reach out to individuals considered to be at-risk for an opioid overdose to encourage them to seek help.

Governor Raimondo, who spoke during the training session, said, “The HOPE initiative is a unique, first-in-the-nation collaborative partnership among state agencies that will enable law enforcement and clinicians to work together in the community and connect people to lifesaving treatment. This is exactly the kind of innovative approach Rhode Island needs to tackle the opioid crisis. There’s never any shame in seeking help. Recovery is possible for everyone.”


“Addiction and substance use disorder are diseases that must be tackled and treated on all fronts,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the state Department of Health. “This innovative partnership provides one more opportunity to save lives by bridging the systems we have created to address the overdose epidemic and the people who need to access those systems. The HOPE Initiative allows us to meet people where they are, in the community, and provides our first responders with the direct support of professionals who understand the complex issues related to opioid use.”


The HOPE Initiative will be coordinated by the Rhode Island State Police, in partnership with the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Prevention and Intervention, the Department of Health, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The program will be funded through state and federal grants.


“The Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force has stressed the importance of communities this year,” said Rebecca Boss, Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals. “One of the largest communities working with us during this epidemic is the community of law enforcement. Their work is critical to saving lives; the HOPE Initiative gives them one of the most important tools in this fight, a partnership with substance use counselors, which we believe will make a significant impact.”


“We’ve learned we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” said Tom Coderre, Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor and co-chair of the Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. “This new program will utilize the right combination of law enforcement, clinical and lived experience we believe will help engage more people to get the help they need to find and sustain recovery for the long term.”


“Mental illness and substance use disorder are too often viewed as social problems and addressed through the criminal justice system,” said Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Eric J. Beane. “As a result, people in crisis cycle through the system for low-level crimes instead of getting the help they need in the community. Through this initiative, we are taking an innovative approach to changing this dynamic and working together with partners to break down barriers to treatment so that we can better help people and their families find success in recovery.”

Today’s training program, which was held at the Roger Williams University’s Baypoint Conference Center, also included an appearance by Chris Herren, a Fall River native and former Boston Celtics basketball player who recently celebrated 10 years of sobriety and shares his story nationwide with the goal of reaching one person and making a difference in their life.  He founded the Herren Project in 2011 to help increase awareness of the disease of addiction and provide recovery navigation and family support resources to all those affected by substance use disorder.


“We are pleased to be hosting The HOPE Initiative training as part of our commitment to building the university the world needs now,” said RWU Interim President Andy Workman. “The HOPE Initiative represents an innovative collaboration of police professionals and substance use disorder experts to strategically address the escalating opioid epidemic. This treatment-focused approach is truly a significant change from an enforcement-centric approach to substance abuse issues. It illustrates some of the best practices being used in New England to promote outreach and treatment of overdose victims.”