Around Florida - Dusting Off an Old Program to Help Fight the New Plague Ravaging America

Dusting Off an Old Program to Help Fight the New Plague Ravaging America
By Chief Rich Rosell

The Plague
Make no mistake; the opioid crisis has hit America like a tsunami.  Unlike a tsunami, the waters do not appear to be receding.  In a recent Op Ed article written for Fox News, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed that every day, 134 Americans die of addiction. Everyone in America has an obligation to stop the wholesale slaughter of our youth.  Not even in our most recent wars have youth lost their lives at such an alarming rate.

Police officers wield quite a bit of power and discretion, sometimes more than they realize.  Constant pressure on drug dealers is certain to have an impact on this problem, but experienced leaders will testify that arresting addicts is not the answer to stopping addiction deaths.  Identifying and placing them in proper treatment is the preferred and accepted method. 

Tool in the Tool Bag
Enter the Drug Impairment for Educational Professionals (DITEP) program. DITEP is derived from the national Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) program and is a sister program to the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program.  The proponents are the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA).  DITEP is not an enforcement tool. Rather it is (strictly) an educational asset, which is designed to get students suffering from addiction or otherwise abusing drugs the help that they need.  Law enforcement officers see this training as an additional tool for school personnel to employ as they wish as an early warning system for at-risk students.  The training will first provide all school personnel, to include teachers, counselors, custodians, coaches, nurses, administrators, school resource officers and other staff with the ability to conduct a quick assessment of behavior and symptoms commonly associated with drug abuse and make a non-accusatory referral to the school nurse.  Once the student is with the nurse, she/he will look for certain indicators to determine if the student is under the influence of a drug.  If it is determined that there is impairment, the nurse will determine whether the impairment is due to a medical problem or is drug-related. If the impairment is drug-related, the nurse will utilize proven diagnostic procedures taught in the DITEP course to determine what category or categories of drugs are likely causing the observed impairment.  The nurse can then take appropriate steps to get help for the student. 

By providing training to school officials and health care professionals, DITEP enables schools to employ an aggressive evaluation and detection program that could cause drug usage in schools to decline. Consequently, not only will the disruption caused by those abusing drugs be decreased, but also the incidence of those individuals driving to and from schools while impaired by either alcohol or drugs will also be greatly reduced, making our communities and schools a safer place for all.[1]  If employment of the tools learned in a DITEP course saved just one life, it would clearly be worth the time spent in the course. 

There is a clear connection between drug use in schools and school shootings.  Statistics show that most school shooting suspects were either under the influence of some type of substance during the time of the shooting or were active drug abusers leading up to the event.

Practical Application
In Florida, along the Treasure Coast, which encompasses the counties of Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee, the Treasure Coast Opioid Task Force has been convened.  This task force is comprised of public and private partners with a common goal: Get out ahead of the curve on the opioid crisis.  As a member of the Law Enforcement Subcommittee on this Task Force, and President of the Treasure Coast Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, recognizing that the police can contribute more than just arrest statistics, I reached deep into my tool bag and pulled out DITEP.  On May 29, through a cooperative agreement with the Indian River County School District, I will present our first DITEP course.  Word of this initiative has reached the state level, and we have interest from various regulatory agencies wishing to receive this training.  While the goals of the Treasure Coast Opioid Task Force remain my responsibility, I have a moral obligation to share what I know with all jurisdictions.

We must never give up on our youth, no matter how far off course they stray.  To do so would grossly violate the very oath we all took.  DITEP has been around for decades and is one of those programs that tend to be lost when the subject matter experts retire or are promoted and have not taken the time to pass along the historical information that took them a lifetime to accrue.   It provides a simple mechanism to supplement our community involvement initiatives and further humanize the police to the public.  Unlike many of our skills, this does not involve placing anyone under arrest; rather it is strictly educational in nature. As one of the many resources we have at our disposal, it will help ebb the tide of the tsunami. 

Chief Rich Rosell Bio
Chief Rosell is currently the Police Chief and Public Safety Director for the Town of Indian River Shores, Florida, the former Director of Public Safety for the Town of Dover, NJ and Township of Springfield, NJ, and a 27-year veteran of the New Jersey State Police, retiring at the rank of Captain.  He has a very diverse skill set with vast operational, training, policymaking, homeland security, leadership, management and administrative experience.

Chief Rosell has years of experience teaching at the graduate level for Seton Hall University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, as well as extensive police and military training experience.    

Chief Rosell has a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State University in Human Services, a Master’s Degree from Seton Hall University in Human Resources Training and Development, a Master’s Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in Homeland Defense and Security Studies and has thus far earned eighteen credits at Drew University’s Doctor of Letters program.