Gloucester, MA. Leonard Campanello leans forward. “There’s no incentive or coercion that will stop an addict,” he says. “This is the only long-term illness on the planet where if the disease presents itself, they kick you out (of treatment).”
Moments earlier he had entered the Sugar Magnolias breakfast place on Main Street in downtown Gloucester. Then he told me about his amazing offer to drug addicts. It’s an offer that will change drug treatment in America, reduce crime, decrease drug-related deaths, drop incarceration and de-stigmatize substance abuse, while restoring the community role of the police. It will save lives and money at the same time.
This is a sea change.
Before you get the wrong idea, let me assure you that Mr. Campanello, who is the Chief of Police in this city of 28,000, isn’t a reformer. He doesn’t look like a reformer. He’s a cop, a fact-and-evidence guy. He speaks without hyperbole in a boots-on-the-ground Boston accent. You can’t listen to him without having a sense that he is absolutely right.
So what was that amazing offer?
Last year, on March 5, after a string of fatal overdoses in Gloucester, Campanello made this declaration on the departments Facebook page:
“As a police department, let me again make our policy clear:
- If you are not involved in opiates or heroin, help us. Inform yourself, call us when you see activity, volunteer. You can make a difference.
- If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic.
- If you are a dealer of heroin, opiates or any other poison...We are coming for you. We will find you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent possible. You will pay the price for making money off the misery of others. It's not a matter of ‘if’ we find you; it's a matter of ‘when.’ You've gotten your warning. Get out of our City.”
Later, the offer of help (in italics above) was clarified: an addict could come to police headquarters, give up his supply of drugs, and he would not be arrested. Instead, he would be offered detox and a recovery program, overseen by a crew of “Angels” who would provide long-term daily support.
In addition, the department would make certain that Narcan, a drug that counteracts opiates, would be readily available. As a result, Campanella could write this on the department Facebook page on January 18thof this year.
“…today I write directly to the person suffering from addiction. Gloucester had 4 overdoses in the last 24 hours. That’s the bad news. The good news is all were brought back to us by the increased availability and proliferation of Narcan. A city outside Boston had 30 overdoses in the last 48 hours.
“Some will say, "Oh it’s a bad batch." Bullshit...there is no good Heroin. You are important and worth it. There is no incentive or punishment that this disease responds to. We cannot say "Do this for your family or your child" or "If you don’t stop we're going to arrest you." We know that doesn't work. But we know what can...we accept you. We know that you don't want this. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help you when you want it. There is recovery and a new life that can and should be yours. You deserve it. Your life is more meaningful than your death. Don't be ashamed of your illness. We are not ashamed of you, It's time...come and get the help...and if you're discouraged because you've tried before, know that relapse is part of the disease and we will be there again and again and again until you make it. And you can make it. Even if you're not ready, call us. We will put you in touch with someone from our program who is in recovery and has been in the same place as you. Someone who understands.
“We've dedicated the last 8 months to helping YOU. Why? Because we don't want to lose you. When you're ready, we will be here.
“The Gloucester Police Department, myself included, will accept no further award (sorry Michael Moore, but thank you) or recognition until every person in this country that suffers from addiction has immediate access to sustainable care. And we've wiped the ground with every scumbag, POS dealer that only sells for profit. We see you, you leeches of human life, and you'll pay. In this life or the next.
Treatment providers...thank you for helping.”
Note that this is not a top-down change from thinkers-on-high. It is, like virtually all real change, from the grass roots. Campanello, a former undercover cop, simply got tired of “arresting the same people over and over.” And seeing the death and devastation of drug addiction made his frustration worse. In 2014 there were 47,055 deaths nationwide from lethal drug overdoses. In that number, nearly twice as many died from prescription painkillers as from heroin.
Campanello is not alone.
When the original Facebook posting went viral, he called John Rosenthal, a Boston real estate developer who had earlier volunteered help if he ever needed it. The response to the Gloucester Initiative, Campanello told me, “was like trying to drink from a fire hose.”
So they started the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI, a non-profit that is organizing to spread and support the idea. Already, 57 police departments have joined.
Will it end drug addiction in America? Sadly, no. But it may reduce it. And that’s more than our endless, top-down “war on drugs” has done.