The Town Fighting Heroin Addiction With Compassion, Not Handcuffs

A renegade police chief has decided the War on Drugs just isn't working on his patch.


Image Credit: Flickr / Andres Rodriguez

A police department in Gloucester, Massachusetts, has decided to scrap the ‘War on Drugs’ for a more practical approach- offering a helping hand and friendly ear to heroin addicts in the town. People dependent on opium will now be able to seek support from the local cops- even if they have drugs in their pockets.

“It’s a disease, not a crime,” Gloucester’s police chief Leonard Campanello said about addiction. “We’re committed to the idea of attacking the demand rather than attacking the supply.”

By this, he means that while dealers will still be faced with the full force of the law, addicts will get advice and help into detox. Campanello’s change of tactic was first made public on a facebook post, after the small town’s fourth fatal opium overdose. Last year, Massachusetts saw over 1000 cases of death by heroin, which is a record high for the state.

Campanello’s plan is to buy doses of Narcan, a drug that reverses opium overdoses, and support addicts into rehab and counselling. He will fund the project from money taken from drug dealers, or as he puts it: “We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them.”

He accepts it’s not a long-term solution to the problem, but seems to have a genuine concern for the poor, as well as a pragmatic and compassionate approach to drug treatment: “We recognize that nasal narcan is not the answer, but it is saving lives and no one in this City will be denied a life saving drug for this disease just because of a lack of insurance.”

“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.

“Lives are literally at stake. I have been on both sides of this issue, having spent seven years as a plainclothes narcotics detective. I have arrested or charged many addicts and dealers. I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance. The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life. Please help us make permanent change here in Gloucester.”

The police chief wrote: “We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this DISEASE”, but he also made it clear where his empathy ends, adding: “If you’re a dealer, we have no use for you. You’re making money out of the pain of others.”

However, it is important to note that it is still an offence if caught with these drugs on the street.

See Russell Brand and a War on Drugs researcher discussing how Portugal reduced heroin addiction by 50% when they took the same approach as Gloucester’s police chief.

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