The problem of the war on drugs can be summed up in one phrase – it’s a war on people. While far too many cops gladly take part in this war to profit from civil asset forfeiture or to perpetuate the oppression of minorities, some are taking a decidedly different approach and it’s working.
As the opioid epidemic came into full force in recent years, one police chief in Massachusetts had a novel idea – help drug addicts instead of throwing them in a cage. This led to the creation of the Angel Program.
As the Boston Globe reports:
“As Gloucester police chief, Leonard Campanello pledged in 2015 that drug users could walk into the police station, hand over heroin, and walk out into treatment within hours — without arrest or charges. The concept of help rather than handcuffs became a national sensation.”
Campanello is no longer police chief there, but the program is continuing in Gloucester. The concept of helping addicts instead of criminalizing them is such a success, it’s been adopted by 200 police agencies in 28 states. This encouraging phenomenon shows that it’s possible for law enforcement to listen to reason when it comes to drug abuse and actually helping communities.
“It puts police in the lifesaving business instead of the spin-drying business of arresting and releasing,” said John Rosenthal, a Boston resident fighting the opioid epidemic. “We estimate that approximately 10,000 people have been placed into treatment.”
In Gloucester, records show that 530 people have sought help at the police station since June 2015. Steve Lesnikoski was the first person to get help under the program, and now, after 18 months of being clean, he says without the Angel Program, “I’d probably be in jail or dead.”
Fatal overdoses and drug arrests have decreased in Gloucester. A study by Boston University and Boston Medical Center provided compelling evidence for the Angel Program’s efficacy.
“In 417 cases where a person who visited the Gloucester police station was eligible for treatment, police data showed that 94.5 percent were offered direct placement and 89.7 percent enrolled in detox or other recovery services, according to Dr. Davida Schiff, a BMC pediatrician who was lead researcher in the study.
Those numbers, reported in December by the New England Journal of Medicine, compared with less than 60 percent of direct referrals from hospital-based programs, which recruit patients who visit emergency rooms with substance-abuse disorders, Schiff said.”
So, doing the opposite of the war on drugs is what truly helps people. This is especially important as opioid abuse – which has become an epidemic thanks in part to Big Pharma — has become the number one drug problem in so many parts of the country.
Rosenthal and Campanello are promoting the Angel Program in other states through a non-profit network called the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). The organization includes “private citizens, philanthropists, business owners, law enforcement leaders, and prominent members of the academic community” who share the goal of “saving lives from drug overdoses, reducing the number of drug addicts and opioid drug demand, thereby devaluing a seemingly endless drug supply.”
“The police have changed the conversation,” said Rosenthal. “This is a conservative entity that has realistically concluded that you cannot arrest your way out of this public-health epidemic.”
While there is a long way to go until authorities finally acknowledge the utter failure of prohibition and the misery it brings, the Angel Program and PAARI are heartening indications that law enforcement can adopt a rational, proactive approach to the problem of drug abuse.