August 17, 2015
A Massachusetts city is changing the way it deals with heroin and opioid addicts who turn themselves into police.
On June 1, a new policy took effect in Gloucester that puts addicts into treatment services, instead of charging them with a crime.
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the White House on Monday will announce its own program to pair law enforcement officials with public health workers in an effort to emphasize treatment rather than prosecution of addicts. The program would come as fatal heroin overdoses are rising nationally, especially in New England.
In a May Facebook post that followed a Gloucester forum on the opioids crisis, police Chief Leonard Campanello announced:
"We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this DISEASE. Your Police Department vowed to take the following measures to assist...:
"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."
In addition, nasal Narcan was made available at Gloucester pharmacies without a prescription at little to no cost regardless of insurance. (Narcan is trade name for naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioids, especially in overdose.) The police department is paying the cost of the prescription for those without insurance, using money seized from drug dealers during investigations.
"We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them," Campanello, a former narcotics officer, wrote on Facebook.
According to the Associated Press, police said Friday that 109 addicts so far have been placed into drug treatment programs at a total cost of about $5,000 to the department.
Experts say the policy is unique in the United States, the AP reported.
It would appear the White House program will push further growing efforts to emphasize treatment over prosecution.
Citing two senior officials, the Post reported the program would initially be funded for $2.5 million by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and cover 15 states.
The plan would focus on tracing the sources of heroin, where a deadly opiate additive blamed for a rising share of recent overdose deaths is being added and who is distributing the drug to dealers, the newspaper said.
The Post said the initiative came in reaction to a sharp increase in heroin use and deaths, particularly in New England and other Northeastern states, which will be covered in the plan.
Heroin overdose deaths in the United States nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, fueled by lower costs as well as increased abuse of prescription opiate painkillers, U.S. health officials said in July.
Under the White House program, 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts will collect data on overdoses and trends in heroin trafficking for distribution to local law enforcement, the Post reported. It added that the plan would also train first responders about how to use medication that can reverse overdoses.
"Our approach needs to be broad and inclusive,” the Post quoted a senior White House official as saying. “Law enforcement is only one part of what really needs to be a comprehensive public health, public safety approach.”
A law enforcement official told the Post it was a step in “both reducing crime and reducing the number of people who end up in emergency rooms.
“Heroin is killing people and too often, public health goes one way and law enforcement goes the other," the official added.
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
Reuters contributed to this report.