Massachusetts cops enlist 'angels' to aid addicts

Gloucester, Mass., Police Chief Leonard Campanello

Contributed Photo

GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s phone was ringing off the hook Monday. The calls were generated by his and the city police force’s plan to tackle the area's opioid crisis.

In the fight against opioid abuse, the expectation is that police will target the supply. Campanello’s plan turns that expectation on its head: Police will work locally to cut the demand, and do it a compassionate way.

“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,” the plan reads. “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.”

The police department also will pay the cost of nasal Narcan for those without insurance. Narcan is a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

In addition to the local efforts, Campanello plans to travel later this month with local lawmakers and leaders to tell Washington, D.C., how far the city is willing to go to fight the drug crisis.

The chief announced the plan Saturday at a “call to action” forum before a full crowd at Gloucester's city hall, attended by about 150 people, but wanted to spread the word further. So on Monday, at around 11 a.m., he posted the plan on the department’s official Facebook page.

PLEASE READ THIS POST:On Saturday, May 2, the City held a forum regarding the opiate crisis, and on how Gloucester has...

Posted by Gloucester Police Department (Official) on Monday, May 4, 2015

By 1 p.m., the post had been shared 399 times, liked 400 times and commented on by 53 people. By 3 p.m., the numbers had more than doubled, and by 4 p.m., more than 60,000 people had seen it.

The plan was about two months in making, and began fermenting after March 6, when Campanello posted — again on Facebook — about four opioid overdose deaths that had taken place in Gloucester since the beginning of the year.

“Everyone expects law enforcement to tackle the problem in the normal way,” he said. “But from my previous experience in narcotics work, I know cutting the supply doesn’t work, but if you work to cut demand, the supply will dry up. ... Once you change that thought process, the implementation isn’t difficult. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime; it doesn’t interfere with law enforcement or my job."

And as for that Facebook post? By Wednesday afternoon, it had more than 22,700 likes and 21,700 shares, almost all of the 2,800-plus comments on the plan are positive.

“60,000 people can’t all be wrong,” Campanello said.

Holbrook writes for the Gloucester (Mass.) Times.

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