The Michigan State Police Angel Program allows anyone suffering from substance abuse to walk into the police department and instead of being arrested, they are offered an “angel” who helps them with rehabilitation. The Angel Program has now come to Traverse City.

Featured in the 2021 issue of MyNorth Medical Insider.

Jason DeBeck is an “Angel” for the Michigan State Police (MSP) Angel Program, and he shared one story that says it all: A man who walked—yes, walked—the nearly 30 miles from Grayling to Gaylord to turn himself into the Angel Program at the MSP Gaylord Post.

“And this wasn’t during the summer,” DeBeck says. “It was cold, sometime in March or April. For me, that shows that people desperately need help and will go to any length to get it. It’s a much-needed program.”

Started in 2016 at the Gaylord Post, the Angel Program allows those with a drug or substance abuse problem to turn themselves in at any MSP Post and an “Angel” will help them get the help they need for rehabilitation.

The program is available at all 30 MSP Posts, and while that’s good news for towns Up North like Cadillac and Gaylord, there’s been no such program in place for much of Northern Michigan. That’s why, this year, the Traverse City Police Department is stepping in to fill a need—the Law Enforcement Center (851 Woodmere Ave., Traverse City) will offer the Angel Program. Anyone can walk in Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and get the help they need, says Jordan Wieber, Crime Prevention Officer with the Traverse City Police Department. The program is traditionally offered at only MSP Posts, but a handful of city police departments are starting to come on board throughout the state.

“This program is a proactive approach,” Wieber says. “For those in need, we want you to know that the police have compassion and that we hope to change lives.”

Michigan had 2,729 overdose deaths in 2017. Of those, 1,941 were opioid-related and 699 were a result of heroin use. Nationally, since the onset of COVID-19, Wieber says overdoses are up 25 percent. Locally, they have seen an increase as well.

“COVID has definitely affected opioid and narcotics usage in our area and everywhere,” he says. “We’re excited to team with the Angel Program and get people into recovery. Addiction can reach anyone.”

Corey Hebner, Community Services Trooper at the Michigan State Gaylord Post, agrees. “For years, an addict was painted as a willing participant,” he says. “But is there always a choice? The truth is that it’s a sickness; it doesn’t discriminate. The problem can start with opioids prescribed by a doctor, and you think that’s safe. But then you develop a sudden addiction. A lot of times we find that these are moms who were in car accidents or a high school sports player who was injured. Those are also the faces of addiction.”

Hebner adds that the same plant is used to make opioids and heroin. So once people run out of their prescription, they will then seek a different source and will find a cheaper and more lethal version of it in heroin.

How the Angel Program Works

Those in need can turn themselves in at any Angel location, says Hebner. “If they come voluntarily, there are no tricks to that,” he adds. “We know it sounds too good to be true, but the big thing is that we want to get people help. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

He notes that the person must come voluntarily, not as part of an intervention by the family. Also, he has seen people get pulled over for a traffic violation and when drugs are found, they claim they are on their way to the post. “It doesn’t work that way,” he says.

Once the person comes in and requests help, any drugs are taken and destroyed by the police. If a person is overdosing, they will call 911 and have the person medically treated first and foremost.

Next, an Angel is called and they are brought in to help assess the needs of the person. The screening includes how long and how much the person has been using, if they have any type of insurance and the current availability at rehab programs.

Typically, female Angels are called for women seeking treatment, and male Angels are called for men. Angels are volunteers and must undergo a background check. Some have personally dealt with substance abuse in the past but must be in recovery for at least two years before becoming a volunteer.

Angel Jason DeBeck, owner of Nathan’s House, a recovery residence for men in Boyne City, says that he, too, has been on the dark side of addiction. It’s the reason that he decided to become an Angel and to help others when he heard about the program at the Gaylord Post.

“Addicts and alcoholics understand each other,” he says. “Once you find the bottom, it’s time to find help. We call that the ‘gift of desperation.’”

DeBeck has been sober for more than eight years after seeking help through the human resources department of his employer at the time. He has since found joy in helping others find hope in recovery.

“There’s a tremendous reward for Angels to be a part of this program,” he says. “We get to pass on a little bit of who we are and our story, and we get to help others.”

DeBeck ends with this: “I know you don’t want to see a blue uniform at a time like this, but there’s compassion and care there—and help when you’re ready.”

Find this and more articles about health and fitness Northern Michigan in the free, digital edition of MyNorth’s 2021 Medical Insider below; or get Medical Insider in print each year for free when you subscribe to Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, delivered to your door each month.