Few argue that drugs represent a very real societal problem. The debate tends to center on what to do about it, after it’s a problem. Politicians and law enforcement usually call for more regulations, tougher penalties, and a host of other things that just don’t seem to work. When faced with the failure of these measures, many officials double down on what has always been done. There’s a name for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result: Insanity.
However, the police chief in Gloucester, Mass. may have started something that could well be part of the solution to drug related incarcerations, in lieu of “waging war.”
On March 6th of this year, Gloucester Chief of Police Leonard Campanello wrote a Facebook post much like he normally did. But this particular post bemoaned four deaths to heroin and opiates in just two months — for a city with less than 30,000 residents.
Frustrated, and without any forethought, Campanello added what would turn out to be a propitious statement to that post:
“If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic.”
The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Where one of Campanello’s typical posts would collect, perhaps, a dozen ‘likes’ — this post garnered 1,234 likes and, according to the Washington Post, “more views than there were people in the city.”
Obviously, he’d hit on the crux of a problem with the different approach that was sorely needed.
“The war on drugs is over,” Campanello said. “And we lost. There is no way we can arrest our way out of this. We’ve been trying that for 50 years. We’ve been fighting it for 50 years, and the only thing that has happened is heroin has become cheaper and more people are dying [emphasis added].”
On May 4th, he posted a lengthy update after considering what he’d stumbled onto with that first extemporaneous post.
“Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their equipment (needles, etc.) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged. Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery. We will assign them an “angel” who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot. Addison Gilbert and Lahey Clinic have committed to helping fast track people that walk into the police department so that they can be assessed quickly and the proper care can be administered quickly [emphasis added].”
Though it was unclear what the repercussions of such a bold move would be, after over 33,000 likes and 30,000 shares for the updated post, there was no denying Campanello had found a better alternative to penalizing those struggling with addiction. Over 4,000 comments sang the praises of the program — a few even compared the approach to Portugal’s success decriminalizing all drugs. Most echoed sentiments like, “Well done!” and“Finally someone gets it right!” and even “Bravo!! More compassion and humanity in our justice system. You are leading by example. And I think the results will validate your decision [emphasis added].”
And validate they have.
Campanello said this week that over 100 addicts have already taken advantage of the opportunity — and one in six have come from out-of-state, including a person who traveled all the way from California to ask for help. It’s certainly a switch to see so many flock to the very police who, in the past, would have arrested and jailed every one of them.
“It’s extremely important for a police department to treat all people with respect,”said Campanello. “Law enforcement doesn’t exist to judge people.”
And as for cost? An update on the “Gloucester Initiative Angel Program” in an August 10th post stated: “$5000 for 100 lives.”
Going even further, Campanello approached a local CVS pharmacy and explained the program and the need for Nasal Narcan, which can reverse an overdose. Without insurance, the drug cost $140, but after hearing about the revolutionary program, CVS made it available for $20 a pack — so Campanello started providing it to addicts free of charge.
“The police department will pay the cost of the Nasal Narcan for those without insurance. We will pay for it with money seized from drug dealers during investigations. We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who take them,” he said.
With so many people taking advantage of the program, Chief Campanello and the Gloucester Police Department, as well as their various partners, have formed a non-profit organization called The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) “to bridge the gap between the police department and opioid addicts seeking recovery.” Its website states, “Rather than arrest our way out of the problem of drug addiction, P.A.A.R.I. committed police departments:
- “Encourage opioid drug users to seek recovery.”
- “Help distribute life saving opioid blocking drugs to prevent and treat overdoses.”
- “Connect addicts with treatment programs and facilities.”
- “Provide resources to other police departments and communities that want to do more to fight the opioid addiction epidemic.”
Though it is perhaps premature to estimate the program’s overall success, three Massachusetts cities will soon be implementing programs based on Campanello’s model.
After 50 years of the Drug War, we have a good indication that what law enforcement has been doing doesn’t work. Maybe it’s time that “protect and serve” means a little bit more, where the people who need the most help can get it before they are criminalized. As Chief Campanello says, law enforcement doesn’t exist to judge people.