Hot Springs Police Program Aims at Heart of Opioid Epidemic

Hot Springs Police Program Aims at Heart of Opioid Epidemic

(Editor's Note: Each year, Arkansas Business partners with the Arkansas Municipal League to present the Trendsetter City awards, which recognize exceptional initiatives underway in municipalities across the state. Large, medium and small-sized cities were honored in six categories: Education & Workforce Development; Environmental & Green Management Practices; Infrastructure & Water; Public Safety; Tourism Development & Creative Culture; and Wellness & Fitness. Below is one winner's story. For more, click here.)



Public Safety
Honorable Mention • 20,000 or Greater

Until 2020, the Hot Springs Police Department (HSPD) was only able to address the criminal aspect of the opioid epidemic. The department then sought and was granted funds for a program to attack the core of the problem and provide resources to assist addicts and their families.

Population: 38,559
Mayor: Pat McCabe
County: Garland
Region: Central

At the heart of the HSPD program is peer recovery specialist Sean Willits, 33, an Army veteran who himself overcame an addiction that nearly took his life 14 times. The HSPD hired Willits in May with funds from a Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Grant through the Arkansas Substance Abuse Certification Board and the Arkansas State Drug Director.

Willits’ services include advocating for treatment, developing educational programs for the community and police department staff, providing support for victims and family members, supporting the opioid criminal investigator, working with stakeholders in building relationships and resources for victims and working with the state drug director’s office to implement new ideas and resources.

Willits also uses his own story to motivate through hope and inspiration and to fight the stigma of addiction, which, according to a 2019 CDC report, kills an average 24 Garland County residents a year.

Another program element is overdose investigation, with a new position of opioid investigator filled by Jjesus Anaya, who works to identify sources of narcotics obtained by overdose victims. Resources previously only allowed for overdose death responses to be treated as medical calls, with the criminal aspect frequently overlooked.

The HSPD program’s third goal involves capacity building for law enforcement and data collection.

Hot Springs National Park is the oldest federal reserve in the United States.

Use of data related to local substance abuse will inform, influence and advocate for prevention, treatment and recovery services. Data will also help focus resources and identify gaps within the system.

Yearly data will be compared to track investigations, arrests, recovery placements, court interventions and educational programs.

The HSPD’s goal is to build the positions and efforts into its current budget structure. Sustaining the program as an investigative and community-based project will also factor into the department’s long-term strategic plan.

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