BY: LISA CUMMING
Addiction is a disease. Despite this, drug abusers in the United States are thrown in prison where maybe 11 per cent of them get the rehabilitative care they need and, upon release, 50 per cent of inmates start using again.
The criminalization of addiction has very serious consequences. There needs to be a call-to-action on how we, as a society, view and treat people suffering from this disease.
In lieu of this, the police department of Gloucester, Massachusetts has made a landmark decision to stop arresting drug addicts if they come into the police station and ask for help. The new policy, which began on June 1st, states:
Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged. Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery. We will assign them an “angel” who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot. Addison Gilbert and Lahey Clinic have committed to helping fast track people that walk into the police department so that they can be assessed quickly and the proper care can be administered quickly.
Upon return of drugs and drug equipment, addicts will receive immediate care
By the end of 2014 the Gloucester Times reported a staggering 130 heroin overdoses in Essex County, with three happening in Gloucester. This number is only on the rise as four people, as of May 2015, have overdosed in Gloucester.
As a response to these growing numbers, the police force decided against following the traditional doctrine of throwing abusers in prison on possession charges. Prison is not an appropriate place to put nonviolent drug abusers because the environment is not rehabilitative in any sense of the word.
With the implementation of this policy the Gloucester police force is striking the right balance between enforcing the law and providing an opportunity for rehabilitation to those who want it.
Narcan is a drug used to reverse heroin or other opiate effects.
“We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them,” writes Campanello. “We recognize that nasal Narcan is not the answer, but it is saving lives and no one in this city will be denied a life-saving drug for this disease just because of a lack of insurance.”
Campanello, a seasoned narcotics detective, says he has been on both sides of the issue.
“Law enforcement can be a voice and a conduit to treatment, not incarceration,” writes Campanello. “Law enforcement can be compassionate soldiers in the fight against this disease, and we can reduce the stigma that society has by simply offering to help and refusing to judge.”
As of August 10th the Gloucester Police Department had placed 100 people in treatment for under $5,000.
While there is still a long way to go to understanding addiction, the Gloucester Police Department has made significant strides by offering immediate attention and support.