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Friday, May 8, 2015

Don't Arrest Opiate Addicts Looking for Help: Gloucester, Mass.

“I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one
turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether
or not they have insurance,” Campanello 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.”

--Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Chief Leonard Campanello

Lock them up; let them out -- repeat the vicious cycle. The national opiate epidemic is desperately in need of new heads with new strategies that both save lives and stop the distribution of crippling substances. The challenge seems almost insurmountable. One police chief is willing to try something new and instill an entirely new philosophy about fighting drug abuse.

Police in Gloucester, Massachusetts, are shifting their approach in how to battle the growing abuse of opioids and other substances in their community. According to the Gloucester Police Department, beginning in June, addicts who surrender their drugs or drug paraphernalia and ask for help will not be charged.

(Allison Sonfist. Gloucester Police Won't Arrest Heroin Addicts Who Ask For Help.
New England CN -- NBC. May 06, 2015)

I can almost hear the gasps and envision the doubtful looks on the faces of readers. Of course, the new policy is based on forgiveness of those who are a detriment to their community.

But ...

Aren't we prepared to give mercy and treatment to those who honestly seek help for their addiction? And, won't this approach also provide the added benefit of taking dealers off the street -- the ones who are addicted themselves and who really seek life over profit and greed?

That is exactly what Gloucester is offering as an alternative to jail time. "Instead, we will walk them (addicts) through the system toward detox and recovery," Campanello said. "We will assign them an 'angel' who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot."

These addicts will be offered treatment in partnership with Lahey Hospital and Medical Center and Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Helping heroin addicts and not locking them up? "Oh that won't work," you say?

Consider ...

Chief Leonard Campanello is a brave, dedicated officer who is not afraid to foster novel approaches in the midst of a health epidemic that last year killed more than 1,000 people from overdoses of heroin and other opioids in Massachusetts. I admire the man and fully understand the reasons Gloucester has committed resources to the new policy.

God bless, Chief Campanello. He is a person willing to face considerable political opposition and fight for the common good of the citizenship. It is evident he is schooled in methods to curb drug abuse. In fact, he must be considered an empathetic pioneer.

The man is not forcing change without strict guidelines. While users will get help, dealers will get no pass in Gloucester, Campanello said. He continued: “If you’re a dealer, we have no use for you. You’re making money out of the pain of others.”

"We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this disease," Campanello said. He said the police are committed to the idea of attacking the demand rather than attacking the supply.

Already, the DA’s office has a diversion program offering treatment in lieu of prosecution for addicts charged with non-violent crimes.

Addicts who turn themselves in will get help in part from Lahey Health Behavioral Services, which just received a $4.8 million grant to help frequent visitors to their hospital emergency departments.

The community has recognized that most of those “super users” who show up at the ER 10 or more times a year have some kind of underlying issue, usually addiction or mental illness. Lahey will provide them with what they need to get better, from food to transportation, detox to housing.

(Allison Manning. "Cops Battle Heroin by Abandoning Battle on Heroin Users." May 05, 2015)

Campanello will travel to Washington, D.C., on May 12 and 13 where he will meet with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton.

"I will bring the idea of how far Gloucester is willing to go to fight this disease and will ask them to hold federal agencies, insurance companies and businesses accountable for building a support system that can eradicate opiate addiction and provide long term, sustainable support to reduce recidivism," says Campanello.

I look with keen interest upon these efforts to save lives. One health official from Gloucester said addicts asking for help from police probably have more motivation to complete treatment than a person seeking another prescription from the ER. I believe that is true. It takes some guts to be addicted and essentially turn yourself over to the authorities; however, the reward of sobriety could be so great.

Perhaps one enforcement agency in Massachusetts will spur other departments around the country to begin more successful strategies for curbing drug abuse and drug crimes. One thing is certain: Same old ways produce same old results, and that is presently insufficient. 

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