Gloucester Mass. Police Chief Announces Heroin Addicts Will Be Put In A Hospital, Not Jail : A Profile in Sanity

I can’t say how pleased and proud I am that finally, sanity peeks through in the miserable failure that is the “War On Drugs.”: In the face of the current Massachusetts heroin crisis, a local Police Chief declares that opiate addicts walking in to his Police Department will not be arrested, but instead taken to a local hospital for addiction treatment. Why? Because heroin users are MEDICAL ADDICTS, not violent criminals – and they belong in a hospital and a medical environment, not in a court room and a prison environment. As a Massachusetts drug charges attorney, I can guarantee you that.

Imagine that: Medical treatment for heroin addiction, not punishment. Shocking, isn’t it? … And how sad that this idea isn’t universal policy at police departments across Massachusetts.

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello announced to the media on May 4 that opiate and heroin addicts who come to the Gloucester Police Department will not face Massachusetts drug charges – even if they are in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia such as syringes at the time they walk into the police station. Instead, they’ll get the help the so desperately need: What Police Chief Campanello suitably describes as an “angel” to walk them down the road toward detox recovery, and help them get the medical and hospital treatment they need. The medical treatment will partially come from Lahey Health Behavioral Services, which was recently awarded a $4.8 million grant to assist repeat patients in Lahey’s hospital emergency departments. Many of these “repeaters” to Massachusetts hospital emergency departments can return to an ED up to a dozen times a year, and present with addiction or mental illness issues. Lahey Health Centers will now provide these patients with the resources they need to get their lives back together, from detox services to food to transportation and housing.

Campanello, previously a narcotics detective who knows what he is talking about, posted the announcement on Facebook, and made his laudable, and entirely logical, reasoning crystal clear: Opiate addicts are little different from everyday people that are addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. “The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money,” Campanello wrote. “Petty reasons to lose a life.” The Massachusetts heroin epidemic has exploded in the past two years or so, making national headlines in the process. More than 1,000 people died of opiate overdoses in Massachusetts in 2014, higher than ever recorded before. In Gloucester alone, in just the first five months of this year, four people have died from heroin and opioid overdoses. The chief couldn’t correlate how much crime in Gloucester stems from heroin addiction, and he doesn’t need to: Whether it’s small or great, the need for a sane and rationale approach is the same. Quoting Chief Campanello, “It’s big enough for us to change the fundamental way we deal with addicts and recognize it as a disease and not a crime, in and of itself, that deserves punishment. We’re committed to the idea of attacking the demand rather than attacking the supply,” Police Chief Campanello told Boston Fox 25 News.

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office, which prosecutes crimes occurring in Gloucester and other Massachusetts North Shore communities, has so far reserved final comment on the Gloucester Police Chief’s plans. The Essex DA’s office already has a diversion program offering non-violent drug addicts treatment in lieu of prosecution, which is admirable. Project COPE in Lynn operates the program. In 2014, 72 people enrolled in the program and more than 50% successfully completed it. Six percent of those who enrolled went on to commit another crime. As a Dedham Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I can assure you that’s figure is pretty low. Make no mistake: Drug DEALERS will get no break from this program, which is aimed at addicted users. The Gloucester Police Department plan will utilize seized drug money to pay for supplies of Narcan, the prescription drug used to reverse opiate overdoses. Anyone needing Narcan can get it from the Gloucester Police at almost no cost. Summing up the logic of this approach, Chief Campanello said, “We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them,” Campanello wrote.

This man deserves a medal – literally – for the courage he has shown to speak sanely and rationally about dealing with the Massachusetts drug policy. And be assured: It takes courage for a Massachusetts police chief to break ranks with the majority of police departments who blindly arrest sick drug addicts for prosecution as Massachusetts drug offenders. While the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Awards usually go to someone on the national or international level, Gloucester Massachusetts Chief Leonard Campanello should be the next recipient of this award. In the meantime, Chief Campanello plans to meet with federal officials, including Chief Campanello is traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey as well as Congressman Seth Moulton, to discuss more federal aid and support to combat local efforts combating the Massachusetts heroin epidemic.