Imagine a society that supports it most troubled citizens with hope and assistance, rather than reprimanding them for past actions. The idea sounds Utopian, but it is a reality in the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts in the USA.
The town had decided to stop putting all heroin and opioid addicts behind bars and instead is giving each individual a chance to get clean.
Under a policy launched in June, heroin and opioid addicts who voluntarily turn themselves into the police are fast-tracked into treatment services, with the help of police officers, volunteers, and trained clinicians.
They can even hand over drugs and drug paraphernalia to police – no questions asked.
As reported by Fox News, individuals addicted to an illegal substance are NOT charged with a crime and are given an opportunity to fully detox and start anew. All costs are covered by public and private insurances, grants by service providers, and the police department.
As of August 14, 109 addicts had turned themselves into the clinic seeking help. Around 70% are men, and about 16% are from Massachusetts. To ensure all the individuals seeking help are placed in drug treatment, the police department has so far given about $5,000.
This novel initiative is unique in the United States and, of course, not without controversy. Locals are in an argument over just how involved the local police should be in combating the heroin epidemic that has swept through the nation.
But if anything is evident thus far, however, it’s that reform is needed.
“It’s the next logical step in the so-called war on drugs,” says Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, a former narcotics officer who launched the effort. “We need to change the conversation.”
The lead prosecutor of Gloucester has warned police that they may lack legal authority to promise addicts help without charging them. In addition, some treatment providers worry the sudden crush of addicts turning themselves in could tax the already-strained system.
Said Chuck Faris, CEO at Spectrum Health Systems, a Massachusetts substance abuse treatment provider that has so far taken in about 35 Gloucester-referred patients: “If several other communities adopted the same practice, it could overwhelm the existing capacity.”
But if these people really need help and are willing to turn themselves in to receive it, shouldn’t the ‘system’ offer it? It’s a very controversial and taboo topic, indeed.
Campanello stresses that building trust with addicts is of the highest importance. To do this, the department has partnered up with pharmacies to provide discounted naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin overdose. The department is also pressuring federal authorities to designate some of the money seized from drug dealers for rehab.
“I think the question to ask is why is a police department in northeastern Massachusetts placing people into treatment? And if we can, why can’t the traditional methods do it?” said Campanello.
The officer hopes to shine a light on the many hurdles faced by addicts who want treatment within the health care industry.
According to the CDC, the heroin-related overdose deaths in America nearly doubled when more than 8,200 people died between 2011 and 2013. Of that number, approximately 939 Massachusetts residents died from heroin or opioid-related overdoses in 2013, and five them hailed from the town of Gloucester.
To assist the Gloucester police, a nonprofit has been set up to support the program and spread the word about the city’s efforts with other communities. And the idea is catching on!
“Traditionally, law enforcement has tried to arrest their way out of the problem,” says Dan Langloss, police chief in Dixon, Illinois, who announced this week his department and the county sheriff’s office are adopting Gloucester’s model starting Sept. 1. “That just doesn’t work.”
In other cities, like Seattle, similar approaches are being applied to remedy the crisis; Select officers are allowed to redirect low-level drug and prosecution offenders into treatment, rather than jail.
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