The muffled sounds coming from Alex Brown’s room sounded like crying — but they were actually his desperate gasps as he struggled to breathe.
“Alex was turning blue when I found him,” remembers his mother, Irene. “I started screaming and called 911 and the police were there immediately.”
Police provided the naloxone that saved Brown, a 2014 graduate of Wellington High School, from a heroin overdose that could have ended his short life.
Today he’s eight months sober, largely thanks to help from local police officers who decided helping Alex rebuild his life was more important than sending him to jail for drug use.
Brown is one of 57 people who have sought help through the Wellington police department’s LINC program. His mother shared his story May 3 during a town hall event at the Patricia Lindley Center.
LINC — Local Initiative Networking Compassion — was conceived in 2016 as an alternative to arresting addicts. It helps them find placement in rehabilitation centers across the country.
“By the time Alex got to the emergency room he was fine, so they had no reason to keep him there,” Irene said. “We went home and spent the night discussing going to the police station and talking to them. I didn’t sleep that night. I sat up next to him on the couch because I didn’t know what he would do.”
The next day, they went to the station and officers helped send him to Florida for treatment. “Police officers in that office spent the entire day with Alex before he left,” Irene said.
Police chief Tim Barfield said officers often join medical professionals in comprising rapid response teams when helping those addicted through the recovery process.
Such teams remain in contact with overdose victims and encourage them to enter treatment. That work has been made possible by roughly $700,000 in federal grants secured by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“After Lt. Jeff Shelton and I go to an overdose, we always hand them our cards and say, ‘Please come in and ask for help when you’re ready,” Barfield said. “The interesting thing is we’re starting to see those same people ask for help. We’ve had people walk in recently who we never thought would reach out to us.”
Matt Sams, a 2012 Wellington High School graduate, was admitted to a treatment center in Cleveland through LINC last November after crashing his car while under the influence of heroin.
He is now six months sober and credited LINC with showing him a better path in life was attainable if he was willing to reach out and grab it.
“It was the lowest point in my life,” Sams said of the incidents that led him to LINC. “I’ve been dealing with addiction since 2012. Last November, I had some things happen and I was just tired of it. I was ready to end it all and finally get some help. Luckily, my parents had heard about what the police department is doing.”
Police didn’t hassle him with questions. All they wanted to do was help, he said.
“Officers got on the phone and within an hour had Kathy (Brunner) from Let’s Get Real in the office immediately trying to find me a place to go.”
Let’s Get Real is a Vermilion-based nonprofit that often works with LINC through the treatment process. The organization has collaborated with LINC in 30 cases from Wellington since last July.
Sams is still in treatment and calls it “the best thing that’s happened to me.”
”I wouldn’t trade this past six months for anything. It’s definitely not been easy. There’s times where my mind wants to go back to what I was doing, but that’s just not an option anymore. This has all not only brought my family and I closer together but overall I’m just a happier person.”
Barfield said he is considering expanding the scope of LINC to help people struggling with thoughts of suicide and other problems.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.