ANAHEIM — Brian Prame had already hit bottom more than once when, about nine months ago, he told the Anaheim Police Department he wanted help for his drug addiction.
Prame, 30, said he had spent several years on the street using heroin and methamphetamine. He’d been to jail more than half a dozen times, most recently serving six months after leading police on a high-speed chase while driving drunk.
When he got released and started using drugs again, even though he didn’t want to, Prame knew something had to change. So he called the police.
Brian Prame, 30, in Anaheim on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 took advantage of the Drug Free Anaheim program. Prame has been clean and sober for nine months and is currently working two jobs. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)Brian Prame, 30, in Anaheim on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 took advantage of the Drug Free Anaheim program. Prame has been clean and sober for nine months and is currently working two jobs. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)Brian Prame, 30, in Anaheim on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 took advantage of the Drug Free Anaheim program. Prame has been clean and sober for nine months and is currently working two jobs. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)Show Caption of Expand
Because of Drug Free Anaheim, a program that connects willing addicts with treatment for substance abuse, the police were able to refer Prame to a social worker who helped get him into a residential treatment program. Today, he shares a North Anaheim home with other young men in recovery, works two jobs and belongs to church and self-help groups.
“Something like this where somebody can call and say, ‘I’m done,’ and be serious about it and they can get help, that’s huge,” Prame said. “For a long time I couldn’t.”
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait announced the Drug Free initiative in 2016. Since it officially launched in January 2017, more than 270 people have approached police to seek treatment.
The premise of the program – modeled after one that combats opioid addiction in Gloucester, Mass. – is that people might come forward for help if they’re not in fear of being arrested. To be eligible for the program, the person must not be wanted for any crimes or have convictions for serious drug or sex-related offenses.
Ready for help
Growing up in Fullerton and Placentia, Prame said he had a good childhood. But when he was about 13, he lost interest in school, started drinking and smoking pot, then progressed to other drugs.
He was homeless for a few years. After his 2016 arrest, Prame said he realized he had no control over his drug use. He called Anaheim police, and they connected him with Colin Womer, a social worker with Covina-based Social Model Recovery Systems.
Prame didn’t have any way to pay for treatment, but Womer got him a bed at Anaheim Lighthouse through its scholarship program. The treatment helped: Prame got a job even before his three-month stay was over, he rediscovered his religious faith and he encouraged others facing the same problems.
“Probably asking for help is the biggest hurdle there is to getting into recovery,” he said.
Womer said while the clients he sees range in age from 15 to 65 and have issues with a variety of drugs, most “have been out there for a long time and have hit a new bottom where they’ve realized what they’ve lost and what addiction has cost them.”
Some people will flag down an officer, but most come into Drug Free Anaheim through the street outreach Womer and police officers do weekly. Once someone is ready, Womer opens his database of more than 300 area treatment providers and looks for the best fit. Most clients don’t have private funding, but some are eligible for government insurance and others get scholarships.
While most clients get residential treatment, Womer is prepared to meet any need, from intervention and mental health services to sober living placements.
In addiction medicine generally, relapses are not uncommon and it can be hard to track the effectiveness of treatment, but Womer said he doesn’t find that discouraging.
“Just because somebody relapses doesn’t mean they haven’t gained a skill that will help them in the future,” he said. And, he said he strives to build a rapport so clients can call him if they’re struggling.
Anaheim’s program is now in its second year, with two more years of funding approved if officials continue their contract with Social Model Recovery Systems. The city could spend up to $100,000 a year, which pays Womer and covers other logistics, but doesn’t fund drug treatment.
Nationwide, the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative – which supports programs such as Anaheim’s – has 382 law enforcement partners that have helped an estimated 12,000 people get into treatment, said Allie Hunter McDade, the initiative’s executive director.
Some police departments report a reduction in crime and increased trust with the community, and the programs can save money by diverting people from the criminal justice system, she said.
Anaheim Lighthouse Community Relations manager Tara Jimenez said she’d love to see Anaheim’s program grow.
“All of us that are involved are like, ‘Why doesn’t every police department do this,’” she said.
For Prame, recovery has meant more possibilities have opened up, but he is still repairing the wreckage of his old life and deciding what to do long-term.
“There’s a thousand other things I’d rather do than go and get high,” he said. “I’ve got more to lose, stuff that I actually really worked hard for.”
Drug Free Anaheim
What: Drug Free Anaheim allows people to ask a police officer for help; the police refer the person to a social worker who finds the right treatment program.
Cost: The City Council approved spending up to $100,000 a year for four years on the program.
Results: As of Jan. 30, 270 people have participated in Drug Free Anaheim.
Information: 714-765-1900 or www.anaheim.net/4654/Drug-Free-Anaheim.
Source: Oc Register