An Innovative Approach
Massachusetts has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to social issues. The first state to legalize gay marriage, Massachusetts has a track record of implementing models for social equality that catch on across the nation.
Let’s hope their latest innovation catches on. I’m talking about how police in the town of Gloucester, MA will provide treatment to addicts seeking help, rather than locking them up.
In a move that’s sure to rattle some chains, Gloucester Chief of Police Leonard Campanello announced recently that any addict who walks into his station and asks for help will get it. It doesn’t matter if they have drugs on them. It doesn’t matter if they’re shaking and sweating. They’ll get treatment rather than jail.
This new way to fight heroin and painkiller addiction couldn’t come at a more pivotal time. Consider that since January, four Gloucester residents have already overdosed and died. Consider that upwards of 1,000 Massachusetts residents died from opioid related overdoses in 2014. Those are some stark figures.
It’s clear a new approach to fighting drugs is needed. Campanello may offer just that. A former narcotics detective, Campanello believes opioid addiction is a disease, a treatable disease, no different from cigarette addiction.
He’s said, “The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money…Petty reasons to lose a life” (Boston.com).
That’s a hell of an attitude to have! Levelheaded assessment and action like that of Campanello and his officers seem like just what the doctor ordered. Find out how the Gloucester program will work below.
How It’ll Work
Any addict that enters the Gloucester Police Station will immediately be paired with a volunteer, they’re being called angels by the GPD, to help them get on the path to sobriety. Since their initial announcement in late April, over forty people have already volunteered to be angels.
So, what do they do? They sit down with the addict seeking help and assess their treatment needs. That is to say, do they need detox and addiction treatment? Do they need only treatment? Are they even serious or simply looking for something to stave off withdrawals? Following initial treatment, what options are best? Do they need food, housing, or transportation? Basically, these initial volunteers will figure out how to best help each individual addict.
If someone does need detox, as is often the case with opioids, they may receive it from Lahey Health Behavioral Services or Addison Gilbert Hospital. Both these organizations have partnered with the Gloucester Police Department to “fast track” those who need help.
In addition to working with local hospitals and treatment centers, the GPD has started partnering with local drug stores to offer Narcan (naloxone) to addicts, their families, and first responders. These partnerships will provide free doses of the vital “anti-overdose” drug to those who need it most.
I like the sound of this approach! It’s bold, new, and looks like it just might work to help addicts. What about money though? Who’s going to pay for all this? After all, a medical detox and addiction treatment aren’t cheap.
Here’s where things get very interesting. Campanello plans to offset some of the cost of detox, treatment, and Narcan by using seized drug money. How ingenious is that!
In a statement, Campanello said, “We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them” (Boston.com).
As I mentioned above, this plan sounds amazing to me. What about the public though? What about those directly affected by addiction? What do they have to say about the “Gloucester plan?”
Well, so far, there’s been very positive feedback. Joanne Peterson, a support group facilitator in the Gloucester area, praised Campanello’s recognition of addiction as a disease. Jonathan Blodgett, the Essex County District Attorney, is looking forward to reading “the substantive and legal details,” according to a spokesperson. Kevin Norton, from Lahey Health Behavioral Services, praised the innovative nature of the program.
All of the above is to say nothing of the outpouring of support this program has received on Facebook, where Campanello made the initial announcement, and in comment sections on The Washington Times, Boston.com, and other news services.
Just how successful GPD’s program will be remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though, their approach is unlike anything else being done in the country right now. Change is scary, but it’s also vital to overcoming addiction. Let’s hope this is the right kind of change.