By Aramie Louisville Vas
The police department of Gloucester, Mass. has a new way to help get addicts off drugs and into rehab. In an initiative launched in June by former narcotics officer Police Chief Leonard Campanello, heroin and opioid addicts can come directly to the police station for help. Police say addicts can even turn over their illegal drugs without fear of arrest. They are then fast-tracked into treatment with costs covered largely through insurance, grants, and money seized in drug deals.
As of Thursday, 104 people had turned themselves in seeking help. All were placed into treatment at a cost of about $5,000 total to the police department.
This unique policy has some questioning the role of the police in the heroin crisis which has hit hard in New England. The lead prosecutor for the Gloucester area has issued a warning to police that they may not, in fact, possess legal authority to promise addicts that they won’t be charged with a crime.
Local substance abuse treatment providers worry that an influx of new patients could overwhelm their system’s current capacities. Still, cities across the nation are taking notice. Dan Langloss, police chief in Dixon, Illinois, announced this week that his department, along with the county sheriff’s office, will be adopting Gloucester’s model starting Sept. 1.
“Traditionally, law enforcement has tried to arrest its way out of the problem,” said Langloss. “That just doesn’t work.”
A young woman, whose name has been withheld by the AP due to current allegations of sexual abuse and domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend, came to the Gloucester police station after three days living on the street, shooting heroin. She learned about Gloucester’s new program after calling a relative.
“I know this isn’t the life I want to live,” said the Massachusetts native and college graduate. “I just didn’t know how to get out.”