article originally published in the Summer 2019 SOR Justice-Focused Update Newsletter 8/22/2019
"Mo' Heroes was an expansion of the MO-HOPE Project [www.mohopeproject.org], that launched with the start of STR, to provide overdose education and naloxone in criminal justice settings. When we started this project we were going to focus on specific high need areas but it has grown and grown under SOR and now we are in a place of trying to expand to state-wide.
We initially got the program up and running in both Saint Louis City jails. Shortly afterward, we expanded to the County. As we grew, we learned that this is a lengthy process. It’s not merely going into a jail and training staff; it’s customizing each program to fit into the current work flow of that specific precinct. What works with one jail might not necessarily work for another. In the City jail, they don’t quite have the infrastructure to ask their staff to provide the training themselves, so our consultants go in and facilitate the training for them. The County, however, has the internal bandwidth to make accommodations within their own staffing for trainings. That’s a lot of what we do on the back end—helping people set up protocols to make trainings work in their setting without causing any sort of disruption.
We are currently working with twenty counties right now—that’s not to say we have the program active in all twenty counties, it’s not. But we are having the conversations about implementation and setting up these protocols to get the project going. In general, we try to target city and county jails and treatment court programs, but we have also expanded to other agencies that serve an at re-entry population. We are always looking for any way to get naloxone and overdose education into the hands of those who are at the highest risk. That’s the goal.
There is a lot of stigma in the criminal justice arena. For so long addiction has been and still is being treated as a criminal issue. So how do we go in and say, 'Yes we understand that someone is here for a criminal charge, but we would still like to provide them with naloxone.' Some might see it as enabling the individual to use again as soon as they get out. That has been a huge barrier, getting that proverbial buy in. From there, it comes down to finding a way to fit the program into their work flow in a way that won’t be burdensome to their staff.
We have had a number of people come back to us and say that they received their naloxone as part of a court exit program and they went on to reverse an overdose and save someone’s life. We have also had great success with individuals whom have never had addiction education before. It’s rewarding to see that lightbulb to go off in the head of people, specifically with law enforcement, where they change their mind and realize that they are dealing with a physical addiction and the absolute necessity of providing people with OUD any sort of intervention and access to treatment if they expect to see sustainable change. Helping foster a different mindset from seeing the person with addiction as a criminal, to seeing the person with OUD as a person who needs help and needs access to care, is an important portion of what Mo' Heroes aims to provide the community.
It is exciting to see how positively most of the response has been. Many of the police officers that have attended the trainings have been wanting to learn this information because they want to see populations at risk for re-entry do better, live healthier, and go on to have successful lives. These officers want to be a part of that chance, and that is encouraging to see. We see that shift when an officer gives out a resource card, and tells a person, “Hey, I hope you don’t use again but if you do, here is how to stay alive or save someone else’s life.” It’s been amazing to see this growth.
Personally, I don’t want to see anyone go to jail. But if someone does go through the system, Mo' Heroes is there to help set things in motion so that individuals are connected to the resources they need to have a better chance for success and maybe avoid being in a similar situation in the future. They can know that there are recovery community centers that can help them, there are resources out there for them, that there are people out there who care about them, that there is help, and there is hope. And that is the message we want to bring to Missouri—they aren’t alone and that there is hope—so much hope."