While most law enforcement agencies across the United States continue to treat drug users as though they are common criminals, some have cast out their old school methodologies and adopted a more common sense approach to combating the scourge of addiction on their city streets.
Instead of arresting drug offenders and handing them over to the criminal justice system, the Gloucester Police Department in Massachusetts has decided to offer complimentary treatment programs for which they will pick up the tab.
Earlier this month, Police Chief Leonard Campanello took to the department’s Facebook page to announce that any addict who walks into police headquarters and surrenders the remainder of their dope and paraphernalia will not be charged with a crime. Rather, these individuals will receive an “angel” that will immediately begin guiding them through the recovery process.
“Not in hours or days, but on the spot,” Campanello wrote, adding that the department has teamed up with the Addison Gilbert Hospital and Lahey Clinic in order to fast-track rehabilitation efforts for those seeking help through the police force.
Under the philosophy of “attacking the demand rather than attacking the supply,” Campanello, who worked seven years as a narcotics officer, understands that people addicted to opiates are not criminals, but rather, they are suffering from a debilitating disease comparable to an insatiable nicotine habit.
“The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money,” he said. “Petty reasons to lose a life.
Instead of using the money that has been seized from drug dealers to afford luxuries for the department, Gloucester Police plan to spend it on nasal narcan, an overdose antidote, which will be distributed with the help of local pharmacies for drug users without health insurance.
“We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them,” Campanello wrote in the Facebook post. “We recognize that nasal narcan is not the answer, but it is saving lives and no one in this City will be denied a life saving drug for this disease just because of a lack of insurance.”
This progressive approach to fighting the real War on Drugs is the result of an increasing fatality rate across the city.
Four people have already suffered deadly overdoses in 2015—this in a town with a population of about 30,000. On a state level, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in 2014, according to The Boston Globe.
Although it remains uncertain just how successful Campanello’s plan will be, there is no denying that treatment is a more sensible alternative to incarceration. Several years ago, Seattle launched a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which works to keep addicts out of jail by providing them with the essential resources they need to get clean and lead a normal, productive life.
Interestingly, unlike most drug courts, Seattle’s program does not punish offenders with jail time in case of a relapse… And this approach appears to be working. A recent study published by the University of Washington found that people enrolled in LEAD were 60 percent less likely to be arrested than those thrown into the traditional probationary methods.