Police Offer Treatment Over Jail Time: Applauding One Town’s Efforts to Prioritize the Public Health of its Community
The police in Gloucester, Massachusetts have taken a radical approach to combating the opioid drug epidemic affecting their citizens. Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello is offering free treatment to individuals who turn in their drugs and paraphernalia at the police station. For Massachusetts residents battling addiction, this new program provides much needed help without the fear of arrest. The Gloucester Initiative, implemented on June 1st of this year, promises social support and treatment as opposed to stigma and jail time.
Chief Campanello also worked with a local businessman, John Rosenthal, to develop a nonprofit organization called Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). The goal of PAARI is to assist and support local police departments as they work with individuals suffering from addiction to opioids.
Why is this two-pronged approach adopted by the town of Gloucester so unique in the fight against addiction? Traditionally, the police have treated addiction as a criminal issue, rather than a health issue, and focused almost exclusively on law enforcement. As a result, many people with addiction shun and avoid police officers for fear of discrimination, incarceration or other harm. The Gloucester Initiative and PAARI are taking a public health approach instead — working to create a better relationship between the police and those that suffer from addiction by providing medical, emotional and financial support for those who enroll. The program is also more comprehensive than most:
- Professional support is provided onsite by a clinician who immediately assesses individuals and makes a treatment plan. This is different from other programs that bring patients to a busy emergency room to be assessed. After the assessment, the patient is matched with a treatment facility based on his or her needs and the severity of the addiction
- For emotional support, an “angel” is assigned to each patient for the first three hours of the assessment. These angels are volunteers and include people who have also struggled with addiction. Chief Campanello hopes that these volunteers will make the beginning of treatment easier by providing reassurance and advice, and help to ensure that people are supported during their transfer to a treatment facility
- Treatment is free for everyone. The costs are either covered by the individual’s health insurance plan or by the police department if the patient doesn’t have insurance. This is made possible through the donations of Mr. Rosenthal, various treatment centers and the police department’s drug seizure money
In the short time since the Gloucester Initiative’s rollout, the program has already been deemed a success on a community, state and national level. Within the first 50 days, 58 people were placed in treatment programs. The police department has also created strong relationships with medical facilities, insurance companies and pharmacies that are willing to contribute to the cause. There are currently 30 treatment centers around the country that have partnered with Gloucester to provide space for these patients.
Two other Massachusetts police departments and one Illinois department have adopted the program, and Chief Campanello has reported that six more Massachusetts police departments are planning to join the initiative. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is also considering implementing a similar policy in his city. National conversation is growing and Chief Campanello and his team have planned talks in several big cities to increase the number of departments involved in the cause.
Other Massachusetts officials have also taken a step toward combatting the opioid crisis. On June 22nd, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a new Opioid Working Group that will increase available treatment and access to the overdose antidote, naloxone, as well as provide public service advertisements and education on the risks of opioids.
It is CASAColumbia’s hope that more cities and government officials will follow Chief Campanello, Mr. Rosenthal, Mayor Walsh and Gov. Baker’s lead in taking a comprehensive public health approach to the opioid crisis and offering treatment to those that seek help.
Haley Allcroft is the Summer Research Intern at CASAColumbia