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New Rochester police program aims to help with substance use

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Rochester police have launched a new program aimed at helping people with substance abuse.

Local officials are billing the effort as a way to get people into treatment rather than the current options for dealing with them.

In the past, Rochester police were only able to take people to a detox center or to the emergency room. Now, they are partnering with several local nonprofits for long-term recovery options.

The program is meant to catch addicts while they are motivated to get better, said Corey Kanz, directs substance abuse programming for the Zumbro Valley Health Center.

"When capitalizing on that motivation we can create warm hand-offs from one facility to another,” he said. “The goal with that being that no one gets lost in the cracks. There's a lot of risk involved when individuals have to wait for treatment."

The new program is modeled after one implemented by the Shakopee Police Department.

Since early July, two people already known to Rochester law enforcement have entered the program.

Addicts seeking help will be able to turn in illegal drugs to police and be granted immunity from prosecution.

The program started quietly in early July. Capt. John Sherwin said drug use has taken too many lives.

"Most people don't realize this, but in the past five years, 137 people have died in Rochester and Olmsted County of drug overdoses,” he said. “If we had 137 homicides in the past five years, this community would be outraged."