Julia Simonelli says when she walked into the Michigan State Police post in Cadillac and told them she needed addiction treatment, police spent hours trying to find the right rehab center for her.
“And every single officer in the building participated in making phone calls and searching for rehabs that would accept my insurance, in a location that I wanted,” she says. “I had Blue Care Network at the time, which most places did not accept. So it probably took us 12 hours to get me actually into a rehabilitation center.”
By that point, police had also called in an “angel” volunteer – typically someone who’s been through treatment themselves, though that’s not a requirement. The angel will drive you, sometimes for hours, to rehab or a detox center. If you want, they’ll stay in touch as a resource during and after treatment.
This program started in Massachusetts, MSP First Lt. Kevin Caldwell says, and Michigan State Police adopted it as a pilot project in Gaylord in 2016. Now, the program has spread statewide, with 38 people using it to enroll in treatment so far.
“We’re looking to help them, not harm them,” Caldwell says. “If somebody comes in and maybe they have bench warrants or some sort of [non-violent] warrants, we’re willing to work with them. I can report that since we started this program, we’ve taken not one person into custody. We’ve been able to work through any and many of the issues that have come through our post to this date. So we want everyone to come into the post.”
Here’s how it works: you walk in, tell the police you’re looking for help with addiction. There will be a lot of paperwork, Caldwell says, but they’ll pair you with an angel and work to get you into the nearest treatment center. If they can’t you get into a long term place immediately due to shortages, they can usually get you into detox, he says.
And no matter what, that angel has established a relationship with them.
“That angel is constantly calling and dealing with the [community health providers] and with insurance, and they are working tirelessly to get that person placed,” Caldwell says.
For Julia Simonelli, her angel volunteer stayed with her during intake to make sure she was all set. When that treatment center stopped taking her insurance, Simonelli says that same volunteer made calls to find an intensive outpatient program for her.
“And nine months later, I’m still in my outpatient [program,]” she says. “And that all is happening because of the Angel program. They really are the best place for resource connection.”
Still, Simonelli knows people are skeptical.
“Everyone always reacts with, ‘Wow, you really did that? You went to police while you were on drugs?’ And I say yes. And once I explain it’s a safe way to speak to police as an addict, they’re blown away. Now it’s safe for us to approach police officers in these locations and actually get their help and feel like they’re on your side.
“It absolutely 100% saved my life. I wouldn’t even have most likely survived, had I not made that brave bold step. So I really want to encourage everyone who’s struggling to take that step and be brave and do it. Because it’s ultimately going to save your life.”
You can find more information about the angel program, including how to volunteer as a recovery coach, here.