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Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello didn’t have a plan when he took to social media in March; he just knew he was tired of watching drugs destroy his community. Heroin deaths nearly quadrupled in the United States between 2002 and 2013, and Gloucester has been hit as hard as anywhere. “We had four overdose deaths in the first three months of the year,” Campanello recalls. “When the fourth death was reported, I got on Facebook and said, ‘Four deaths are four too many. You don’t have to become a statistic, don’t have to lose your life to this disease.’ ”
He also made a promise to addicts: “Let us help you. We have resources here in the city that can and will make a difference in your life.”
That post turned out to be the seed of the Angel Initiative, a revolutionary plan for dealing with the opioid addiction problem ravaging the nation: If addicts went to the Gloucester police station, with or without their drugs, the police would help them find treatment, not place them under arrest. In the two months after the program’s spring launch, Gloucester got 100 addicts into recovery programs. And that was just the beginning.
In June, Campanello partnered with businessman and philanthropist John Rosenthal to create the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI, to provide small grants and consulting for police departments looking to do something similar.
Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan was the first to sign on, sending officers and a staff social worker to knock on the doors of known addicts and offer help. The department connects them to an outpatient program and even offers free taxi rides to get them there.
Since then, 18 departments in the state — including Watertown, Worcester, and Yarmouth — have been inspired to start their own initiatives, as have two dozen more departments in 13 other states. Another 85 across the country are aiming to join the movement by winter’s end.
One reason the idea is spreading so fast is that individual municipalities don’t have to spend enormous sums to get their programs going, in part because about 85 treatment centers nationwide have signed up to provide free beds or other help. Gloucester has so far spent less than $5,000 on the program, all of it from seized drug money. In Massachusetts, compulsory health insurance will cover a large part of the costs; in places like Maine, where policy is geared more toward enforcing laws against dealers than treating addicts, PAARI provides “scholarships” to those seeking recovery.
To Campanello, finding a new way to protect people is just a part of the job. “Law enforcement is lending its voice to helping a demographic that didn’t have help before,” he says. “We’re striking at the very core of what we’re supposed to be doing as police officers, which is assisting those in need without judgment.”
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Select a name from the drop-down list below.Elizabeth Gehrman is a frequent contributor to Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.