Cops Are on the Side of Addicts in Small Town Massachusetts

By Zachary Siegel 05/08/15

Police in Gloucester will begin treating drug addiction as an illness, not a crime.

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Last week, police and concerned citizens held a city forum in Gloucester, Mass., a quiet fishing town on Massachusetts’ North Shore, in light of a recent spike in fatal heroin overdoses. The small city outlined big plans to battle the problem, but not in the way you might think.

“We’re committed to the idea of attacking the demand rather than attacking the supply,” Police Chief Leonard Campanello told Police in Gloucester are not interested in busting dealers and arresting addicts, the typical punitive measures, but rather treating people who are addicted so that they no longer desire the drug.

Campanello highlighted several outcomes of the forum in a Facebook post. For instance, any heroin addict who comes to the police station, even if in possession of narcotics, won’t get handcuffed or a charge but rather, “will get an ‘angel’ to walk them down the road toward detox recovery,” he wrote. 

Another initiative is to increase the availability of nasal Narcan, a non-toxic opioid reversal drug. Campanello wrote, “The police department will pay the cost of nasal Narcan for those without insurance.” The department will utilize funds seized from drug dealers to pay for the Narcan, which was recently made available to buy at pharmacies without a prescription.

Lastly, he wrote that he is traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet and advocate with senators to encourage them to change policies that punish drug users at a federal level.

“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 big business accountable for building a support system that can eradicate opiate addiction and provide long term, sustainable support to reduce recidivism," Campanello said.

Joanne Peterson, a local advocate and founder of Learn to Cope, a support group for loved ones who know someone addicted, told, “I think it’s amazing. [Campanello] recognized addiction as an illness. People don’t enjoy being addicted to this stuff.”

The initiatives are set to begin June 1.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.