Three police departments in southern York County announced Wednesday that they will launch Community Access to Recovery programs, adding to a growing list of public safety agencies that are treating drug addiction less like a crime and more like a disease.

The programs, which allow people suffering from substance abuse disorder to come into police stations to seek treatment without fear of being criminally charged, are modeled after an initiative created last year by Leonard Campanello, police chief in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

In creating their own programs, the police departments in Kittery, York and Eliot will have intake hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday through Friday. During intake, each person seeking treatment will be interviewed and then provided transportation to the nearest hospital, detox facility or recovery program that participates in the Community Access to Recovery program.

Patients then will meet with a recovery coach who will help them navigate different treatment options and support systems.

The police chiefs in Kittery, York and Eliot joined their counterparts across the state line in Dover, Portsmouth and Newmarket, New Hampshire, at an event Wednesday in Portsmouth. Also represented were Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, York Hospital, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New Hampshire, and the Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth.

Deborah Erickson-Irons, director of community health for York Hospital, said the hospital has been partnering with local police agencies informally for many years.


“We’ve been dealing with drug overdoses, like so many, for some time, so whatever we can do to prevent that makes sense,” she said. “More and more, law enforcement partners are saying we can’t arrest our way out.”

York Hospital will allow people with substance abuse disorder to come in through the emergency room, where they can meet with a recovery coach.

After launching his Angel Initiative in Gloucester last year, Campanello teamed up with Massachusetts businessman John Rosenthal to create the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative in an effort to encourage other police departments across the country to consider adopting a similar model.

“As the number of partnering law enforcement entities continues to grow and grow, the shift in conversation around treatment availability and options is palpable,” Campanello said in a statement. “We encourage our colleagues at the national level to now embrace the model that is working for so many communities and make it known that American law enforcement considers addiction a disease first and foremost, and stands on the forefront of facilitating help for those suffering from this disease.”

Scarborough Police Department was among the first partners and its program, Operation Hope, has successfully placed dozens of people into treatment, although many have been sent out of state because Maine has a shortage of beds for people in need of addiction treatment. Last month, the department announced that 150 people from 76 towns and cities have been placed since Oct. 1.

Other Maine agencies that have created programs include the sheriffs departments in Washington and Aroostook counties and the police departments in Paris, Ellsworth and Augusta.


In all, 133 police agencies across the country have created their own programs.

“We’re thrilled to be working with this consortium of police departments in New Hampshire and Maine to further their addiction recovery initiatives,” Rosenthal said Wednesday. “PAARI continues to grow every day by assisting police departments and participants, and we applaud these communities for taking a proactive approach when handling addiction.”

Other agencies in Maine have adopted slightly different approaches to address the sustained drug crisis. Portland police have created a Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program. Under that program, the department has a designated substance abuse liaison who works directly with drug users seeking treatment.

Last year was the deadliest on record for drug overdose deaths in Maine. Of the 272 deaths, more than half were attributed to heroin or fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that is often added to heroin. The total was an increase of 31 percent over the previous year. The spike in heroin-related deaths has been especially pronounced: In 2011, seven Mainers died of a heroin overdose. Last year, it was 107.

Lawmakers passed emergency legislation in January to authorize an additional $3.7 million to fight the problem, but many of the programs that will be funded by that bill have yet to get off the ground. Demand for treatment – including in-patient facilities or medication-assisted treatment with suboxone or methadone or other options – is as high as it has ever been. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently estimated that about 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers want drug treatment but do not have access to it.

Erickson-Irons said, from her perspective, the best solution to the crisis is to provide more access to everything.

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