PAARI "Angel" Program Helped More Than 400 People Enter Treatment, Says First Annual Report

By Britni de la Cretaz 12/01/16

Communities involved with the groundbreaking program saw "a 25% reduction in crimes associated with addiction."

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PAARI Helped More Than 400 People Enter Treatment, Says First Annual Report
Captain Richard Flynn of the Arlington Police Department, a PAARI participant

The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), an initiative that encourages police departments to help people struggling with addiction seek help instead of punishing them, has released its first annual report.

“Transparency is important to us,” says the report. In this vein, PAARI has released numbers from its first year that include detailed financials. PAARI is a 501(c)3 non-profit that began in Gloucester, Massachusetts, after the local police department announced on June 1, 2015 that anyone who walked into the police department and handed over their drugs and paraphernalia would not be arrested, but instead would be sent to treatment, following several overdose deaths in their town.

The response from the community was immediate and enthusiastic, leading PAARI to help other police departments implement similar programs. According to the report, in its first year PAARI provided training to 143 police departments in 27 states.

Last November, Augusta, Maine, began training volunteers before implementing their own program; this summer, Newark, Ohio, began its program because they said they were receiving at least one overdose call per day and wanted to try something different. Not every police department has wanted to pursue this approach, however. Cape Cod, Massachusetts, chose not to implement their own program because they didn’t agree with the focus away from criminalizing active users.

In its first year, Gloucester Police Department alone helped more than 400 people enter treatment, with thousands more being helped across the country. Steven Lesnikoski was the first person helped by Gloucester’s “Angel” Initiative in June 2015.

He told The Fix earlier this year that he thought a police department that would provide help instead of arresting him was “too good to be true.” And even though he relapsed after his initial treatment stay, he recently celebrated his one-year sobriety anniversary. He credits PAARI with helping him get there. The report claims that PAARI has partnered with 300 treatment centers in 20 states, as well as secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship funds to help people access the treatment they need. They also distributed more than 5,000 doses of nasal naloxone, the overdose antidote.

In September 2016, PAARI faced its first controversy when Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello—who co-founded PAARI alongside John Rosenthal and was very much the public face of the Angel program—stepped down from his position amid an investigation into his personal conduct, apparently a "personal matter" that had nothing to do with PAARI. Interestingly, PAARI’s first report neglects to mention Campanello’s name even once.

The report says that “communities that have joined PAARI have observed as much as a 25% reduction in crimes associated with addiction, cost savings by diverting people into treatment rather than triggering the criminal justice system, as well as an enormous increase in trust from their communities.” 

Kyliee Moriarty, a Gloucester Angel participant, told The Fix that the program “supported and loved me when they didn’t even know me, and when I couldn’t even love myself.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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