On Thursday Gov. Matt Bevin joined with the Kentucky State Police to announce the launch of the Angel Initiative.

The Angel Initiative encourages individuals suffering with a substance use disorder to visit a local KSP post for assistance with treatment. The program will encourage individuals seeking addiction treatment to visit a KSP post, where he or she will be paired with a local officer who will assist with locating an appropriate treatment program. It is completely voluntary, and the individual will not be arrested or charged with any violations if he or she agrees to participate in the treatment. The program will be operated in conjunction with Gov. Bevin’s “Don’t Let Them Die” campaign, aimed at raising awareness of the opioid epidemic and offering treatment resources to fight addiction.

The Angel Initiative is a valuable tool in our fight against the opioid epidemic and the scourge of drug addiction impacting our communities,” said Gov. Bevin. “The strategic geographic locations of our 16 KSP posts will allow ready access for individuals across the Commonwealth who are seeking help. Breaking the cycle of addiction will require increased efforts by many, and innovative public-private collaborations like the Angel Initiative have the power to transform the lives of Kentuckians and communities we live in.”

KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders called the initiative a forward-thinking and open-door approach for those combating addiction, stating, “KSP is acutely aware of the breadth and reach of the drug problem throughout the state. Our troopers, as well as local law enforcement officials, see firsthand the devastation addiction causes for families. That’s why our agency is committed to face this scourge head on.”

Lethal overdoses claimed more than 1,400 lives in Kentucky in 2016, a 7.4 percent increase from the prior year. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, was a factor in 623 deaths, while heroin contributed to 456 deaths.

In 2017, KSP designated posts in Pikeville and Richmond to serve as pilot projects for the Angel Initiative. Local KSP captains in those areas were able to build partnerships with treatment and medical programs, faith-based initiatives and federal, state and local law enforcement. But Commissioner Sanders said launching the Angel Initiative on a statewide scale will not be without its challenges, stating that people have to learn to trust the program and understand that they are not under threat of arrest as long as they seek help by voluntarily turning themselves in at a KSP post. However, if a person is pulled over or otherwise apprehended by state police and is found to be under the influence of, or in possession of drugs, they will still be arrested.

Sanders said the initiative will not be a free pass to drug dealers and traffickers and that it’s not being soft on crime, it’s being smart on crime. The KSP is as dedicated as ever to pursuing and stopping drug dealers, but, when those suffering from addiction are released from prison without any treatment, prisons become revolving doors. If Kentucky’s communities are ever to be free of the cycle of addiction, treatment is necessary. The Angel Initiative will connect those suffering from addiction with a safe place to come for assistance without fearing retribution.