PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island State Police and several state agencies are teaming up for a new initiative aimed at combating the opioid overdose epidemic.

The “HOPE” initiative, which stands for Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort, aims to bring law enforcement officers and substance abuse professionals together to make sure those who are struggling with addiction receive the help they need.

“The HOPE initiative empowers police officers across the state to take a powerful, proactive approach to combating the opioid epidemic,” Rhode Island State Police Colonel Assumpico said. “Instead of waiting for the next overdose to happen, we will be out there helping people get the treatment they need to save their lives.”

The new initiative kicked off at Roger Williams University’s Baypoint Conference Center Monday with a training program for more than 80 state and local law enforcement officers.

Former Celtics Player and Fall River native Chris Herren, who has experienced the devastation of addiction firsthand, told his story to underscore the importance of the new initiative and how it can help save lives. 

“I chased death for a feeling for seven years,” Herren said. “I had nothing left to live for, all I had left was to die.”

Herren said during his own struggle with addiction, he overdosed four times. Now, he is celebrating 10 years of sobriety.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this crisis,” Governor Gina Raimondo said. “I have a lot of hope for this program. I know that it’s going to save lives.”

“Police officers need and deserve the training around how to talk to people who are struggling… other than just to cuff them and incarcerate them,”  she said. 

Herren said if it weren’t for police officers like those gathered at the training session, he wouldn’t be alive.

“The most empathetic people to me throughout my journey have been officers,” Herren said.

The HOPE initiative will be funded through state and federal grants.

“This is a one of a kind program and we feel very, very strongly about it,” Assumpico said.