Many police agencies are diverting opioid users and other individuals away from the criminal justice system by implementing co-responder programs, which  connect individuals to substance abuse treatment and other services. These programs align with the best practices for sheriffs and chiefs outlined in PERF’s 2017 report, The Unprecedented Opioid Epidemic: As Overdoses Become a Leading Cause of Death, Police, Sheriffs, and Health Agencies Must Step Up Their Response.

In today’s Critical Issues Report, we feature four of these “co-responder” programs that involve teams of police officers and public health or social service workers.


Philadelphia’s Police-Assisted Diversion (PAD) Program

The Philadelphia Police Department implemented the Police-Assisted Diversion (PAD) pilot program in 2018 to divert people away from the criminal justice system and toward supportive, peer-based social and community services. PAD is one of 19 initiatives under the city’s Safety and Justice Challenge effort to reduce the incarcerated population by 34% over 3 years, address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system, and fight the opioid epidemic.

How PAD works:  The PAD program operates in three Philadelphia police districts: the 22nd and 39th Districts in north Philadelphia, and the 24th District, which includes neighborhoods in the city’s east division. It is a health-centered response grounded in harm reduction principles.  It involves police officers, social service providers, and community residents.

Many individuals who have contact with officers due to low-level, nonviolent drug, prostitution, and retail theft offenses receive referrals to the PAD program in lieu of arrest. However, most of the participants are referred to the program through police outreach. PAD links individuals to certified recovery specialists, who provide treatment and recovery support services. PAD services are voluntary, free to the participant, and continue as long as the participant requests help.

PAD embeds behavioral health professionals with Philadelphia police officers every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to facilitate these responses.

Results:  The PAD program has successfully diverted individuals away from jails in the designated program areas. To date, the co-responder program has referred more than 65 people to services and has directly engaged more than 800 people in the community. Based on the success of the model, the Police Department is considering expanding the program to the neighboring 25th District in north Philadelphia and others in the city.

PAD is a partnership with the Temple University Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Services, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Adult Probation and Parole Department, and local service providers.

For more information:


Plymouth County, MA – Plymouth County Outreach (PCO) Project

The Plymouth, MA Police Department is part of the Plymouth County Outreach project (PCO), which is a partnership of 27 municipal police departments in Plymouth County, the Bridgewater State University Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, 5 major hospitals, recovery coaches, the Department of Children and Families, the District Court, probation services, and community and faith-based coalitions.

The PCO project was created in 2016 to address the opioid crisis that was devastating communities, especially among young people, in Plymouth County. In partnership with local hospitals and mental health professionals, the Police Department conducts team-based outreach and intervention to provide treatment for community members with a substance abuse disorder, and assistance to their families.

How PCO teams operate:  PCO teams consist of a plainclothes police officer and a recovery coach, licensed clinician, and/or social worker. The teams visit overdose survivors within 12 to 72 hours of their overdose, in order to offer them treatment and services, while providing support to their loved ones. PCO teams connect clients to:

  • Acute Treatment Services (detox)
  • Clinical Stabilization Services (rehab)
  • Transitional Support Services
  • Medication for Opioid Use Disorder
  • Intensive Outpatient Program
  • Grief Resources.

PCO teams also help persons at risk of an overdose, and persons who need help navigating treatment programs and options. At-risk individuals are identified through self-disclosure, or a family member or friend can refer them. Individuals who are struggling with substance abuse but not experiencing an overdose also can access the program’s resources. People can seek assistance by contacting any of the police departments in the county, asking for a Plymouth County Outreach Officer, or contacting the teams through the website, Facebook page, or phone.  

The PCO teams also provide information on the county’s Drop-in Centers in East Bridgewater, Plymouth, and Wareham; the Champion Plan in Brockton; Plymouth County Recovery Centers; access to Narcan and Narcan training; and other valuable resources.

Results:  Since 2017, PCO has made contact during follow-up home visits with 1,534 people (including both the overdose victims and their family members and/or friends). Through these efforts, 395 individuals facing substance use disorders have accepted treatment.

The PCO project has been a model for other agencies looking to implement similar programs. PCO was selected by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance as a model diversion and referral program that mentors other communities. Officials from other cities are shown around the Plymouth area to understand PCO’s day-to-day operations, including a post-overdose outreach visit when possible, according to East Bridgewater Police Chief Scott Allen.

The other BJA mentor sites are located in Arizona, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia.

For more information:


Huntington, WV – Quick-Response Team (QRT)

The Huntington, WV Police Department participates in a partnership program called the Quick Response Team (QRT) with Cabell County EMS, emergency medical providers, city agencies, Marshall University, behavioral health agencies, and faith communities. The QRT provides crisis stabilization and service-led support for people who recently experienced an overdose.

The QRT was created in 2017 with the goal of visiting every overdose patient in Huntington to assess each individual’s needs, develop a treatment plan, and connect them to the region’s numerous addiction service providers and support services.

How the program works:  The QRT consists of an EMS practitioner, a mental health provider or a certified peer recovery coach, a law enforcement officer in plainclothes, and a faith leader. QRT members train through Marshall University regarding screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment and motivational interviewing.

Cabell County EMS workers are dispatched to provide emergency services to individuals who have experienced overdoses. The EMS squad identifies individuals for potential screening with the Quick Response Team, which follows up with the individual within 72 hours.

In the follow-up response, the QRT has different levels of prioritization. The first priority is given to people whom the QRT has not previously contacted, followed by people who could not be located during previous responses. A lower priority is given to people who were previously contacted and chose not to seek treatment, but expressed interest in assistance in the future. The QRT’s follow-up response is finalized with a data collection step, which involves recording the individual’s information to track and communicate with them about treatment plans.

Results:  The QRT has made a significant impact on the opioid overdose crisis in the community, and also addresses the challenges with other co-occurring issues such as homelessness and mental health issues. Since the QRT’s founding in 2017, it has encountered 720 individuals, 216 of whom sought treatment.  Cabell County’s fatal overdose rate fell 24% from 2017 to 2018, and nonfatal overdose calls declined 52%, from 1,831 in 2017 to 878 in 2019.

Huntington’s QRT program was also one of BJA’s mentoring program for Law Enforcement/First Responder Diversion and Referral Programs.

For more information:


Longmont, CO Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement (CORE) Team

In Boulder County, CO, police officers and others agree that a lack of resources has made mental health response efforts difficult in the past. Police would take people 35 miles away to North Range Behavioral Health in Greeley in order to connect them to treatment.

The Colorado Department of Human Services awarded grants for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and Co-Responder programs to 12 communities, including the City of Longmont and Denver County.

With this funding, Longmont Public Safety Department developed a unit called the Crisis Outreach Response and Engagement (CORE) team, which responds to behavioral and substance abuse related calls, and links individuals to drug treatment or inpatient therapy. The goal was to shift the burden away from police patrol officers and divert individuals from the criminal justice system to the health care system. The CORE team aims to reduce sending individuals to jail or to the emergency room.

How the CORE team works:  The CORE team consists of a behavioral health clinician, a paramedic, and a specially trained police officer, who collaboratively respond to 911 calls for services that are related to mental health or substance abuse. CORE provides triage and assessment, crisis de-escalation, and direct transport to an appropriate destination. The team primarily uses  de-escalation and problem-solving skills, rather than initiating criminal cases for most calls.

The CORE program involves peer support specialists and case managers who follow up with people after their initial interactions with the team, so it can be easier to track individuals who need repeated assistance and long-term treatment plans.

Results:  The CORE team has made significant strides to improve the community’s response to substance abuse issues. Longmont officials say the suicide rate in the city has decreased by 50%, and much of the credit is given to the CORE team’s impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the CORE team’s response efforts. Before COVID-19, only about 40% of CORE team cases involved new people. When quarantines were implemented, the team saw an increase to 70% of cases involving new people with whom the team hadn’t interacted before.

Due to the success of the program, Longmont is looking to add a third CORE team by the end of the year. Before the pandemic, other agencies travelled to Longmont to understand how the program operates and how to create similar programs in their departments.

For more information:


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.