HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – According to the CDC, 136 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose – a national problem hitting home in the Natural State.
The city of Hot Springs is fighting this crisis in its own way; by battling drug addiction one person at a time.
Many addictions start with prescribed opioids, or drugs that are taken for pain relief that turn into a need.
The goal of the Hot Springs Police Department’s latest efforts is to meet addicts where they are and stop the chain of addiction before it spirals out of control.
Sean Willits is a key part of this latest campaign. Since 2019, the former addict has worked in recovery centers, meeting those with addiction as they fight to get clean. He knows firsthand what it takes to make an impact on someone’s life and has made it his mission to be that change.
“If somebody stands in front of someone and says they need to get their life together, but they’ve never been there,” Willits said, “they just close their mind. If you want to help these people, you need to have somebody who knows about addiction.”
Willits is the first Peer Recovery Support Specialist at Hot Springs PD, a new position created in the station’s effort to stop addiction.
Cpl. Jesus Anaya has been on the other side of addiction, seeing the damage narcotics can do as he investigates overdose deaths.
His experience has helped in the new outreach program, one of six across the state-funded by a grant from the Arkansas Drug Director.
“We’re here to help them get out of that mentality that they need the opioids,” explained Cpl. Anaya, “It’s educating the public, educating the addicted.”
He adds that the approach is a mental one, focusing on the root of addition rather than the consequences.
“Continually arresting the same individual for the same charges is not helping them understand why they’re addicted and what their issues are,” said Anaya.
For Willits, it’s an approach he’s dealt with before.
“I got the most from what they had to say than I did from what anybody else had to say,” Willits explained, recalling the times he spoke with a Support Specialist while in recovery.
He says the experience was helpful in motivating him to change his life.
The department isn’t just dealing with those recovering; they’re also using this platform to educate the public and stop the stigma halting change in Hot Springs.
When asked what the public can do to help, Willits responded, “[They can] not look at those people as if they’re dirty, horrible human beings – that is one of the reasons these people don’t seek help.”
Hot Springs PD is also hosting a Kimery Park kickball game on July 31st at 10 am. The match is meant to break down stereotypes and engage in some friendly competition.
The recovery community will face off against PD employees, but the public is also encouraged to attend.
The theme of the match is “Kicking the Stigma”.