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Police Department Sets New Tone For Addiction Treatment

National Resource Directory
Gloucester Police Department's policy changes for addicts inspires one Utah woman.

After officers from the Gloucester, Massachusetts police department watched as members of their community struggled to find ways to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths there,they began to reconsider their criminal approach to addiction.

“I think in law enforcement needless deaths or deaths that can be avoided are probably one of the most difficult things to deal with," said Leonard Campanello, Gloucester police chief. "And so I think we were engaged to change some of the things I think we were doing.”

At the beginning of the year he and his department investigated the deaths of four residents who died due to an overdose. The department turned to social media to help educate the public about the dangers of drug addiction. Posting about the deaths on Facebook led to 37,000 hits on the department’s site.  Soon after, officers would no longer treat those with drug addictions simply as criminals.  

“The policy became that if someone presented to the police department with or without their drugs or paraphernalia and asked for help with their disease of addiction that we wouldn’t arrest them or charge them," he said.  "We would facilitate treatment. That grew into what appears to be quite a wildfire that spread in terms of ideas of looking at the problem differently.”

Since the beginning of June the Gloucester police department has helped 92 of their residents find support to help them overcome their drug addictions.  

“It begs a lot of questions," Campanello said. "It begs the question of, 'Why is the police department able to place 92 straight people when there’s a big cry out there that there are no beds and there’s no facilities able to take people with this disease in?'”

This sparked a debate among the Massachusetts health plan providers.  Was there a better way they could work with the police to better serve this segment of the population?

“I think law enforcement adds a new voice to the equation that hasn’t been heard from before," he said. "We can talk on the demand side of this disease as well as the supply side.”

Since changing its policy the department has worked to establish a non-profit organization, the Police Assisted Addiction Recover Initiative, or PAARI to help find funding. The nationwide campaign serves as a conduit for funding, provides resources for treatment centers, and is used by law enforcement agencies nationally to discuss policy changes that lead to collaboration. 

Trisa McBride, a Utah mother who lost her son when he overdosed on drugs, would like to see police officers in this state do what Camponello has accomplished in Massachusetts.

“If I could participate in actually implementing a program like this for the adult community of addiction," McBride said, "I would do it in a second [because of the] vision that he has and how he’s approaching addiction."

McBride is the founder and CEO of the James Mason Center for Recovery in Salt Lake City.  Her son James Mason struggled with drug addiction for seven years before he died in October 2014 from an accidental overdose.

After James died McBride quit her job as a business consultant and began working full time to open the recovery center for youth in memory of her son. Like others, she learned about the Gloucester police department’s efforts through social media.

“When I read [the Facebook post] every hair on my head stood up and I got goose bumps from my head to my toes," McBride said. "And I knew that it was something that works. When we see something like this, what can we do to support this? What can we do to duplicate that? That’s what matters."  

She sees a lot of things working right now and is hoping to be able to incorporate the techniques and approaches as part of her treatment program. Because McBride’s treatment center is new she and her staff have only been working with young addicts since June. In part two of this story we will learn more about her approach to introducing new addiction treatment programs and how her son’s life influenced her to help other addicts following his death.

Click here for part two of this story.