Beginning June 1, opiate addicts who show up at the Gloucester, Ma., police station with their drugs will not be charged with a crime. “Instead,” says Police Chief Leonard Campanello in a Facebook post, “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.” The Christian Science Monitor reports that two local hospitals have agreed to “fast track” those addicted to heroin or other opiates who walk in to the station. Narcan, a drug used to treat overdoses, will be made available for little or no money at at least one drug store. For those without health insurance, the police will cover the bill, using funds seized from drug dealers during investigations.
Opiate addiction has become a major challenge for Gloucester, a city of 30,000. The Boston Globe says three fatal overdoses have been reported in the city this year. Last year, more than 1,000 people in Masachusetts died from heroin, opiates, or other opioids. By comparison, the state had 326 motor vehicle fatalities in 2013. “The perception [used to be] that heroin was mostly an urban problem,” Anthony Pettigrew, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration based in New England, said last year. “But now there are no borders, there are no demographic or geographic areas … that are immune from heroin.” Gloucester isn’t the first city to experiment with a “treatment, not jail” approach to addiction. Last month, the state’s attorney for Cook County said that the county would steer many nonviolent felony drug cases in the Chicago area to treatment instead of prison. Seattle launched a similar program in 2011.