Instead of locking up drug addicts, police in Gloucester, Massachusetts, are leading them to the road of recovery.
Police chief Leonard Campanello announced on the department’s Facebook page that, starting June 1, any addict who voluntarily brings in their stash won’t be arrested as long as they agree to get treatment, which they’ll get help paying for.
The department’s unconventional policy developed out of a recent city forum aimed at addressing the local opiate crisis, according to the post.
This year alone, four people have died from overdoses in the town that’s home to only about 30,000 people, Boston.com reported. Across the state, more than 1,000 people died last year from overdoses of heroin and other opioids, according to the Boston Globe.
Recognizing that addiction is a disease that requires treatment, not punishment, the Gloucester Police Department has vowed to provide anyone who approaches the force with on-the-spot help.
Addicts will immediately be assigned an “angel” who will help guide them through the process. And, Addison Gilbert Hospital and Lahey Hospital and Medical Center have partnered with the department to help fast track anyone who seeks rehabilitation byway of the police department.
Nasal Narcan, a drug that reverses an opioid overdose, has recently become available at local pharmacies without a prescription, and the department is working to make it even more accessible to people in need.
A number of pharmacies have agreed to offer up Narcan at little or no cost, regardless of customers’ insurance plans. The department said it will pay the costs of the drug for people without insurance using money seized during drug investigations.
“We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them,” Campanello, who spent seven years working as a plainclothes narcotics detective, wrote in his Facebook post.
Gloucester’s nascent program comes at a time when a healing approach to addiction has proven to be more effective than incarceration.
Since 2011, Seattle has offered drug users access to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program as an alternative to serving time.
The initiative gives addicts access to housing, counseling, job training and other services which help them get clean and get back on their feet, according to the Associated Press.
Unlike other programs, clients don’t face jail time or getting kicked out if they relapse.
And the approach is working.
A recent study out of the University of Washington found that participants were up to 60 percent less likely to be arrested than those who didn’t get involved in the program.
Campanello said he hopes to help addicts in need, and to break down the devastating stigma.
“The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money,” Campanello wrote. “Petty reasons to lose a life.”