For people addicted to heroin and opioids, a Massachusetts police department gives out rehabilitation sentences, so to speak, instead of arrests—as long as the drug users turn in their heroin.
The program was started in June by Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, who was once a narcotics officer.
Over 100 addicts have come in so far (and not all from MA). One such woman, in her mid-20s and with a black eye in sight, arrived at the station in hopes of kicking her heroin habit.
“It was better than the alternative,” the woman told the Associated Press (AP). Before turning herself in, she’d been in the emergency room, started having withdrawal symptoms, then spent time in a police holding cell. “I just knew if I was let go, I’d just go out and use.”
Heroin affects everyone, from the girl or guy next door to celebrities like Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Belushi, and Janis Joplin, all of whom died from heroin overdoses or heroin-related ones.
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of deaths from heroin has quadrupled in recent years. In Massachusetts alone in 2013, approximately 939 residents overdosed and died from opioid-related and heroin. Five were in Gloucester.
The police in Gloucester are also teaming up with pharmacies to help offer discounted naloxone, which can save someone who is overdosing (if it’s given right away).
In Washington, PA, for instance, there were recently 16 overdoses (allegedly from heroin) in 24 hours (25 within two days). Three people did not survive, yet several of those who did had been given naloxone.
Recently, first responders had been equipped with the drug. District Attorney Eugene A. Vittone told The Washington Post that, on “any day,” Washington County has five to eight overdoses, mostly from heroin—and that is just that county. “It’s absolutely insane,” said Vittone.
Rick Gluth, supervising detective on Vittone’s drug task force, agreed. “There’s been a progressive increase in overdoses the last two years, and it just went out of control,” Gluth told The Washington Post.
“I’ve been a police officer for 27 years and worked narcotics for the last 15, and this is the worst. I’d be glad to have the crack epidemic back.”
There’s no question that heroin use is not declining. However, as for financing programs like the one in Gloucester, to give addicts treatment instead of handcuffs, who is paying?
In Gloucester, the rehab is being funded by money that was seized from drug dealers, public and private insurance, and grants (by service providers). “It’s the next logical step in the so-called war on drugs,” said Campanello.
“We need to change the conversation.” The county sheriff’s office in Dixon, IL, is going to try out Gloucester’s program, too, come Sept. 1.
“Traditionally, law enforcement has tried to arrest their way out of the problem,” said Police Chief Dan Langloss to AP. “That just doesn’t work.”
Though this concept seems revolutionary, not everyone may be on board with the idea and laws and variations of it may vary state-to-state and country-to-country.
For instance, in Seattle, some officers are able to guide “low-level drug and prostitution offenders” toward treatment versus making arrests. Trying to help addicts instead of locking them up is nothing new in places like Vancouver, either. There, Needle Exchange Programs (NEPs) started in 1989 in an effort to minimize drug users sharing needles and, thus, spreading diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV.
The centers give clean syringes and needles to injection drug users. Some people thought it would encourage drug use. However, according to research by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), cited in this CBC News piece, NEPs help:
- “Reduce the transmission of disease in drug users.”needle
- “Do not increase injection drug use.”
- “Do not increase the number of needles discarded (NEPs collect more needles than they give out).”
More programs to help heroin and opioid addicts could mean less deaths from the addictive drugs. Personally, I think that is reason enough for such programs to continue to be created.