Sullivan County's new Access to Care Initiative that aims to make it easier to connect people suffering from addiction to treatment is based on a model already working in other communities throughout the country.

The initiative allows any person to approach a police officer on the street or at a police station and ask for help. Then an officer or Mobilemedic EMS will take the person to Catholic Charities in Monticello to get started.

One of the communities the initiative drew from is the Village of Chatham in Columbia County.

Police Chief Peter Volkmann started the village police department’s program three years ago and has since connected about 210 people from eight different counties to treatment.

Volkmann was at Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris last month as part of Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther's news conference to announce Sullivan County's initiative.

“You will make a difference," Volkmann said. "You can’t save them all, but you can save one soul at a time.”

Volkmann said his department has found a bed at a treatment center for every person who asked for help. Sometimes it happens in five minutes, or takes as long as 11 days, and in some cases, requires having to "fight the system," according to Volkmann.

Chatham's model stems from the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative, a nonprofit that provides resources to police to create non-arrest pathways to treatment.

The Gloucester Police Department in Massachusetts first started its version of the program that Sullivan County and Chatham use in 2015, according to the nonprofit's website.

Now, the nonprofit works with more than 400 police departments in 32 states to support similar efforts.

"I just took that idea and adjusted it for New York state," Volkmann said.

He estimates that getting people into treatment has prevented the sale of $750,000 of heroin locally. Plus, petty crime has fallen and it has saved Columbia County in social services costs, Volkmann added.

Growing up, Volkmann said, his parents taught him that if you ever have a problem or are in trouble, find a police officer - but that there's a stigma with substance abuse.

"Why should addiction be any different from any other problem?" Volkmann said.

That stigma is why he said he shares the story of his own struggle with alcoholism. His last drink was Sept. 2, 1995.

"There’s hope in recovery," Volkmann said. "I’m a testament to that, one day at a time. And I’ve decided to come out of the shadows to stop the stigma because there’s a lot of people who are very successful in life who are leaders in our community that are in recovery.”

mnanci@th-record.com