BOSTON — A New England town that’s combating its drug epidemic through a unique program that allows substance abusers to exchange their drugs for immediate treatment is reporting a strong early response.

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello said 17 people addicted to opioids such as heroin, morphine and oxycodone have taken up the department’s offer to turn over their drugs and paraphernalia without fear of arrest – as long as they agree to enter treatment on the spot.

That’s more than three times the number of people who have died of drug overdoses this year in the seaside community of about 29,000, Campanello said.

The success in Gloucester has caught the attention of other communities, notably Boston, where Mayor Marty Walsh said he’s considering adopting the policy for New England’s largest city. He called it a “great idea and a great pilot program.”

Campanello said it’s time for this type of initiative to become more widespread. “We need to get people into treatment,” he said. “If they fail, we need to get them into treatment again. Just keep trying. Arresting them or coercing them into treatment just doesn’t work.”

The growing interest in the program even prompted John Rosenthal, a Gloucester resident and Boston-area businessman, to help Campanello launch a privately funded nonprofit to support the effort.


Rosenthal said the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative will help coordinate treatment for addicts, support studies looking at the long-term effectiveness of the initiative and help other cities and towns replicate the efforts.

“This program is lifesaving, from day one,” Rosenthal said Tuesday. “And long term, it has the potential to change national drug and treatment policy.”

The Gloucester program, which experts say is unique in the country, has been gaining steady ground after a slow start.

Campanello said the department didn’t see a single taker the first day it was launched June 1. Since then, he said, there have been about one to two addicts a day, on average.

After turning themselves into police, Campanello said the program’s participants are no longer escorted to the local emergency room for evaluation. Instead, a clinician works with them on a treatment plan and facility location. A volunteer “angel” – sometimes a former addict themselves – remains with the person through the three-hour process.

Campanello said that extra costs have been “minimal” for the police department. Any costs incurred – under $1,000 – have been paid using some of the city’s drug seizure money. State funding, he said, covers the costs of drug treatment for participants, who are Massachusetts residents with no insurance plans or plans covering treatment.

Although most addicts have been placed in substance abuse treatment programs in Massachusetts, service providers across the country also have stepped up.

Campanello said about 22 agencies in 15 states have even agreed to pay for the treatment of those without health insurance.

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