Gloucester Police Gain Support for Decision to Treat, Not Punish Addiction

By Zachary Siegel 05/18/15

A revolutionary new way of helping drug addicts may get the resources it needs to take off.

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Two weeks ago a police department in Gloucester, Mass., went viral on social media after making the decision to treat and help, as opposed to punish and jail, addicts in their small-town hit hard by fatal heroin overdoses.

The result of Gloucester’s new police program may be the beginning of a dramatic change in how law enforcement interacts with drug addicts. See The Fix’s coverage of that story here.

Part of Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s promise to the people of Gloucester was to visit Washington in order to garner support from government leaders and policymakers. He has returned from Washington to his small fishing town with good news as Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr proposed allocating $100,000 to the revolutionary anti-punishment program the town agreed on.

It looks like Gloucester may soon receive a financial boost from the State for its new drug policy.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican problem,” said Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), who met with Campanello last Wednesday. “It is a serious national problem that is only getting worse. Chief Campanello is bringing forward a different approach. I can tell you there is a great deal of interest in what he is doing. I enjoyed meeting with him in Washington D.C. and look forward to continuing to partner with him in the future.”

To recap, Gloucester’s three-pronged program is as follows:

  1. Give addicts who surrender drugs immediate help with detox and recovery without any legal action.
  2. Put nasal naloxone in the hands of addicts, families, and caregivers to prevent overdose death.
  3. Offer addicts caught in possession of narcotics the chance to avoid any criminal record by immediately enrolling in and completing an inpatient recovery program, through a partnership with the district attorney’s office.

Additionally, the plan called for a portion of federal criminal seizure money to be earmarked for addiction recovery efforts.

“I am extremely encouraged by the outpouring of support that we have received, not only for Gloucester, but for that state as a whole, in taking the underlying principles to heart that drug addiction is a disease and police departments can take a more active role in reducing the demand for drugs, not just the supply,” Chief Campanello said in a press release.

The rest of the country looks on and takes notes as this new, and arguably more humane, approach to helping drug addicts gains national support. The next step is to implement the program and replicate it across other departments nationwide.

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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.