RIDGWAY — The kickoff ceremony for Elk County’s Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative (LETI) program was held Wednesday morning, welcoming several area officials and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The LETI program was developed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.
“The goal of this initiative is to connect individuals suffering from substance use disorder with treatment options,” said Elk County District Attorney Tom Coppolo. The LETI program will allow area law enforcement officers to guide those who are suffering from addiction into treatment, rather than into the criminal system.
Coppolo also introduced all of the speakers at the conference Wednesday, one of them being City of St. Marys Police Chief Tom Nicklas.
“Our officers have experienced difficulties in the past trying to find treatment for individuals suffering from addiction,” Nicklas said. “Law enforcement officers are human beings, and they do empathize. LETI will provide a defined, step-by-step procedure for addicted persons to get help.”
LETI may also be an incentive for people struggling with addiction to participate in treatment by removing the threat of arrest, Nicklas noted.
“If we help just a few, we are going to deem this as successful,” he said. “But, of course, we hope to help more than just a few.”
Angela Eckstrom, executive director of Cameron, Elk and McKean Counties Drug and Alcohol Abuse Services, said she has been working in the field of addiction for 30 years, and they often partner with agencies such as law enforcement.
“It takes an all hands on deck approach,” she said. “It takes all of us working together to make this happen. Our goal is a lifetime of recovery.”
There is also a federal grant in Elk County that helps to hire a person within the Penn Highlands Healthcare system.
“The position is dedicated to finding appropriate treatment for individuals,” she said.
Clearfield County already participates in the LETI program, Eckstrom noted. Clearfield County District Attorney Ryan Sayers was also in attendance.
Coppolo introduced his friend and former addict, Alex Cherry.
“It’s quite surreal to be here,” said Cherry. “Over four years ago, I was in active drug addiction.”
Cherry explained how vital a support system is when one is trying to recover from addiction, something he failed to do on his own several times. Recovery comes down to three things, he said –teamwork, determination and hard work.
Cherry said he had caused a lot of pain and misfortune to those around him during those three years.
“This is also a testament that anything is possible when you’re surrounded by supportive people,” he said. “You can change your life, no matter what ends you are at.”
During his own speech, Coppolo credited Dr. Janene Holter, agent with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, in being the driving force in bringing LETI to Elk County. Holter and the Attorney General’s office will fund, monitor and assist in providing this program.
LETI posters and hand cards will be available locally at law enforcement agencies, offices, businesses, etc., he noted.
On the cards, there is a phone number that someone seeking help can now call.
“This number will connect them, more quickly than ever before, with people participating in this process,” Coppolo said.
Although LETI is just one tool and not the cure for addiction, it is a huge step in ensuring that Elk County is poised to give people help like never before, Coppolo said.
“If this helps just one person, we are better off than we were without it,” he said. “It’s the first step in a long journey. You can’t have a journey without the first step.”
For more on LETI, visit https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/leti/.