Massachusetts Town Introduces Revolutionary Anti-Opioid Tactic

On October 25th of 2017, the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI, which assists local MA police departments that work with opioid addicts, teamed up with AmeriCorps and launched a groundbreaking program which is discussed at length below. If you wish to skip the origin story, which we recommend you do not as it shows how Gloucester, MA has been ahead of the curve in fighting the opioid crisis for years, please begin reading at the section entitled ‘PAARI & AmeriCorps Change the World’. Thank you for reading.

It began in 2015, when the town of Gloucester revolutionized the way opioid addicts are treated in the eyes of the law – for the first time. Police Chief Leonard Campanello learned of the fourth fatal opioid overdose to occur in his town over the last three months. That same night he learned of the fourth death in a town of 30,000 people, he posted on the Gloucester Police Chief Updates page of the police station’s Facebook account. According to the Washington Post, the chief’s posts would usually get twelve or so likes from other Facebook users.

This time was different.

Chief Campanello’s post on March 6th of 2015 was a bit lengthy to reproduce here in its entirety, but it contained the following three sentences, a little more than halfway down: If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic.”

This post received 1,226 likes and about 30,000 views – that’s over one hundred times as many likes as usual, and as many views as the number of town residents. The chief immediately realized that he had struck a chord with the community. Shortly afterward, the chief gave a press interview during which he said, “The war on drugs is over, and we lost. There is no way we can arrest our way out of this.” Next came a phone call to the mayor of Gloucester.

Then came the good stuff.

On May 4th of 2015, the chief created another Facebook post, much longer than his previous viral post. It reads as a plea for help. Chief Campanello spent seven years as a narcotics officer previous to his position as the chief of the Gloucester Police Department, and understands firsthand the devastation heroin and other opioids cause. The post speaks volumes to his belief that addiction is a disease and cannot be arrested away.

A quote from the May post: Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc.) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged. Instead 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.

Thus the revolution began. By that August, over 100 addicts had been helped by the so-called ‘Angel Program.’ Hundreds more have been helped since. Many come from out of state, and one has even come from California for help. Gloucester, MA became known for a moment as the only town where police granted absolution to addicts, provided there were no other criminal charges pending against them. The town was known as the only one in America for a short period of time, before other cities and towns began incorporating similar programs.

PAARI & AmeriCorps Change the World

What started as a good man’s Facebook post turned into a nationally recognized program in which police actually help addicts in need, as opposed to treating them like violent criminals. The Angel Program of Gloucester not only helps addicts in need, but allows for them to go to the police station without punishment. It didn’t stop there.

The efforts of Chief Campanello evolved recently into something even bigger, thanks to John Rosenthal, who is not a member of law enforcement but rather an activist. Rosenthal founded the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, otherwise known as PAARI.

Their mission statement: “The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the Gloucester Police addiction initiative, to aid other police departments to implement similar programs, and to foster a dialogue around the unique opportunity for police departments to take direct action against the disease of drug addiction in their communities.”

It was 2015 when Chief Campanello opened the station’s doors to addicts and began the Angel Program. It was 2016 when PAARI was created by John Rosenthal to boost police efforts against the epidemic. It was October of this year when PAARI received a grant from the Massachusetts Service Alliance, or MSA, and Gloucester changed the world in its own little way yet again.

You’ve probably heard of the Peace Corps, the voluntary service run by the US government that sends volunteers abroad to help struggling foreign nations in many amazing ways. Well, AmeriCorps is essentially the same thing, but domestic. Volunteers of AmeriCorps are dispersed throughout the United States, helping in a multitude of ways.

Over 75,000 heroic Americans join and volunteer their efforts each year. With the grant from the MSA, Rosenthal secured 25 of those heroic volunteers for the Gloucester Police Department. In a groundbreaking, again-first-of-its-kind move, the PAARI AmeriCorps Program, (we will just call it PAP), “…will place 25 AmeriCorps members into service at host police department sites across Massachusetts, assisting with municipal police-led addiction and recovery programs in light of the growing opioid epidemic.”

If this doesn’t seem like a big deal, you’re not reading the right article.

The Details

Last month, PAARI received a grant for $207,000 per year, over the course of three years. This money will be used to place 25 AmeriCorps volunteers physically in several MA police departments. Of the 25 positions, 20 are Recovery Coaches, and 5 are Program Directors. So far, ten positions have been filled. If you are interested in joining the PAARI AmeriCorps Program, click here. Gloucester PD is currently seeking applications.

Both Everett PD and Lynn PD are among those police departments with PAP Recovery Coaches already in place. Both stations are on board. Everett Police Chief Steven Mazzie: “We are excited about the opportunity of adding additional resources in the form of a Recovery Coach to assist us on the streets, and for folks to be able to drop in to Everett PD to start the process.” Lynn Police Chief Michael Mageary: “The two PAARI-provided recovery coaches will join our substance abuse clinician and jail diversion clinician, who currently make up our Behavioral Health Unit, and make us better able to connect with those who are at high risk of fatally overdosing.”

These PDs are receiving, for free, someone eager to help addicts recover. This will come in handy in a state where the opioid death rate is higher than the national rate, and has been since 2002. In fact, three years ago, the death rate in MA from opioid overdose was triple that of the US average.

Gloucester itself has retained Liz Barnes, who is currently serving as a PAP Program Director. She has been an AmeriCorps member for over two decades, has taught at the University of Massachusetts, and played a critical role for many years at the YMCA of Greater Boston.

It Can Only Help

Although it’s a little too soon to tell whether or not the PAARI AmeriCorps Program will make a significant different, one thing is for sure. It cannot hurt. Over fifty police departments throughout MA have been served by the program so far, and that number will likely grow as the number of volunteers grows. Massachusetts is home to 357 law enforcement agencies. Already over 15% have been served by the program, and it’s only been a month at the time of this writing. That’s impressive stuff.

One death is one too many when it comes to drug overdoses. We all know this. However, reality shows us that dozens and dozens of people die from drug overdoses every single day. In 2015, the town of Gloucester saw ten deaths from opioid overdoses. At first this doesn’t seem shocking, but then consider the facts. That means in a town with less than 30,000 residents, one of them died from opioids nearly once a month. Think about the town you live in. Is the number higher or lower?

In Lynn, MA, the number is much higher: 44 dead in the year 2015. In Lowell, there were 54. In Boston, there were a tear-jerking 138 opioid-caused deaths in just one year. We are talking about a state that could use the help it’s getting.

PAARI Goes Beyond MA

From the PAARI website: “Since June 2015, PAARI has launched more than 320 law enforcement programs in 31 states, distributed 10,000 4mg doses of life-saving nasal naloxone, and helped over 12,000 people into treatment.” Anyone can join, provided you understand addiction to be a disease and not a crime. PAARI provides training, network support, coaching, program models, policies, procedures, templates, grants, and is connected to over 300 addiction treatment facilities.

The list of police departments nationwide that have enlisted the help of PAARI is staggering. For a recovering addict, PAARI refuses to accept that there aren’t enough beds, or that there’s no room. They have basically transformed hundreds of police stations into makeshift recovery centers. The implications here are enormous, and one can only hope the list of departments helped continues to grow.

In Conclusion

In the summer of 2015, Gloucester was the only town in the entire country to offer amnesty to addicts who walked in with a desire to change. Now, hundreds of police departments in over thirty states are offering similar programs. This writer wishes it were possible to ask Leonard Campanello if he ever thought his Facebook post from two years ago would create a shockwave that changed the face of how the law deals with the addicted.

Regardless of whether he knew it would or not, it did. The influence of the Angel Program and the PAARI-AmeriCorps partnership spread nationwide. As of now, numerous police departments around the country have implemented similar programs.

According to the Scientific American: “A study in The New England Journal of Medicine in December 2016 found the program in Gloucester had shown notable signs of success. Between June 2015 and May 2016, the program’s first year, 94.5 percent of the 376 individuals seeking help were offered placement into a detox or treatment program and 89.7 percent enrolled – a rate far higher than the 50 to 60 percent for similar, hospital-based initiatives.”

The first states to follow in the wake of Gloucester were Connecticut, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, and dozens followed since. Over half of US states now offer some form of Angel Program.

It works. To go from 55 percent to a percentage in the high nineties regarding the number of participants who are put into treatment is fascinating. It seems the Angel Programs are working better than anything else in the world to get addicts into recovery.

What do you know? Open your arms to an addict, and they allow you to help them. Tell an addict he or she is a criminal, and he or she will act like one, alone, using a substance that may one day be his or her demise. Thank you, Chief Campanello.