A Gateway to Treatment: one former addicts success in a new program

ASHLAND, Ore.–  A new program adopted by the Ashland Police Department is wrapping up its first year after starting its pilot back in October 2017.

The program known as The Gateway Program is a partnership with Medford-based Addictions Recovery Center and modeled after Gloucester, Massachusetts’ Angel Program.

It’s design – to help support people find treatment options for drug or other addiction abuse. On Wednesday, one of the program’s success stories, Darren Bandy, met with NBC5 News in Ashland to talk about his time in the program and what it was like to be homeless and dealing with severe drug addiction.

But since the program, with his time complete, Bandy is now living in a home – clean and sober.

By a small campfire, a few miles into Lithia Park, Darren Bandy and his dog Sienna walked by areas that were all too familiar to them.

“This would be an area that I would sit a lot and drink and use,” he said pointing to one spot with a bench and table.

It was an addiction for 20 years and now at age 36, Darren says he never saw his life going in the direction it did.

“I went from living my normal life was an upper-middle-class life to living in a park,” he said. “Was definitely a culture shock and just a complete change in lifestyle.”

For the past 15 years, he recalls the constant torture he went through.

“It’s… you get very sick. Every day it’s like having the worst flu that you could possibly imagine with an extreme panic attack at the same time,” he said. “Every morning waking up to that same nightmare.”

At one point, he and Sienna even slept in a park bathroom for a month to keep warm.

Alcohol, opioids, heroin, cocaine, Darren says he abused it all.

“It was a definite rock bottom for me living that way,” he said.

But in September 2018, he found a glimmer of hope in the form of APD’s Gateway Program.

“Instead of waiting to go to call where somebody has overdosed and died, we wanted to try and have an impact before that happened,” said Deputy Chief Warren Hensman.

Introduced in late 2017, The Gateway Program has so far helped 19 people find treatment. Deputy Chief Hensmann says the department looked at similar programs on the East Coast to see how they could help people like Darren.

“We recognize that it is a disease and we want to get them support and treatment and the help they need so that they can be successful,” he said. “So that they can reintegrate into society on somewhat of a normal basis.”

Here’s how it works. Officers give what is called a Priority Assessment Voucher to those who need help. These can then be turned in to the Addictions Recovery Center, a partner of the program, allowing them to be bumped up to the front of the line for treatment.

Darren said this is important because most times when someone hits their lowest and seeks help, there is usually a wait list of up to 30 days or longer. At that point, many relapse and forget about seeking treatment again.

With this program, someone who wants to clean up can receive immediate attention.

“It’s changed night and day,” said Darren. “I went from living in this bathroom to now I live in a nice subdivision in Medford in a shared house.”

Darren says he’s been clean four months now. But it wasn’t always easy and he says there is no magic cure. It took hard work, dedication, and belief in the program to help him get to where he is now.

He said he also wants to thank all of the people in The Gateway Program for helping give him a second life.

“It’s been a pleasure watching him transition,” said Deputy Chief Hensman. “To get help and to get healthy.”

“It’s definitely a big change from living in a park to being able to be a part of society again,” said Darren.

Ashland Police say anyone in need of help or knows of someone who is ready to receive treatment can get a voucher directly from the APD front office.

Medford Police have also picked it up and are in the midst of its own pilot program.

The University of Oregon and the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training have also reached out to APD for more about the program.

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