KENTUCKY (FOX19) - Kentucky State Police announced the launch of the Angel Initiative Wednesday.
The Angel Initiative encourages people with a substance use disorder to visit a local KSP post for assistance with treatment, officials said.
KSP along with Governor Matt Bevin said that the program will pair those seeking addiction treatment with an officer who will assist with locating a treatment program.
Officials say the program is voluntary and those seeking help will not be arrested or charged with any violations if they agree to participate in treatment.
The program will be operated along side Gov. Bevin's 'Don't Let Them Die' campaign, officials said. That campaign raises awareness about the opioid epidemic and offers 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."
Officials say lethal overdoses claimed more than 1,400 lives in Kentucky in 2016. That's a 7.4 percent increase from 2015.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, officials say, and was a factor in 623 deaths. Heroin contributed to 456 deaths.
"Substance abuse has been overwhelming our criminal justice system since the 1970s, and after four decades of strife, it's time to find pragmatic solutions that produce better results," Secretary Tilley said. "The Angel Initiative will connect those suffering from addiction with a safe place to come for assistance without fearing retribution." said Kentucky Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley
KSP says they designated posts in Pikeville and Richmond in 2017 to serve as pilot projects for the Angel Initiative. There, KSP says they built partnerships with treatment and medical programs, faith-based initiatives, and federal, state, and local law enforcement.
"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," KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders said. "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 be arrested."
Sanders says the initiative is not a free pass to drug dealers and traffickers.
"This is not being soft on crime — it's being smart on crime," said Sanders. "KSP is as dedicated as ever to pursuing and stopping drug dealers. When those suffering from addiction are released from prison without any treatment, our prisons become revolving doors. If our communities are ever to be free of the cycle of addiction, treatment is necessary."