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It’s undeniable that the drug epidemic in America is out of control. But who is to blame, and how can we end it? There are various issues to look at concerning the war on drugs, but opioids remain a significant area of focus.

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Doctors are undeniably overprescribing such drugs, and yet, when people find themselves addicted, their lives overturned and loved ones lost, they find themselves in a new form of addiction: incarceration. People in power find it all too easy to jail addicts, and yet many addicts find that it is their only avenue for dealing with their addiction.

But the prevalence of this problem is helping to instigate change more awareness about alternative options are out there. One police chief in Massachusetts thought a better option than the current model would be to actually help drug addicts instead of throwing them behind bars. And so the Angel Program came to be.

In 2015, former Gloucester police chief Leonard Campanello announced addicts would have the opportunity to walk into a police station on their own terms, hand over their drugs, and go to treatment without being arrested or receiving any sort of charges.

An explanation of the program on the Gloucester Police Department’s website reads:

If an addict comes into the Gloucester Police Department and asks for help, an officer will take them to the Addison Gilbert Hospital, where they will be paired with a volunteer “ANGEL” who will help guide them through the process. We have partnered with more than a dozen additional treatment centers to ensure that our patients receive the care and treatment they deserve — not in days or weeks, but immediately.

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The program proved so successful at helping addicts get clean that 200 police agencies in 28 states have since adopted it. It’s an encouraging avenue for showing law enforcement there are other ways to deal with the war on drugs.

Since the program’s implementation, fatal overdoses and drug arrests have decreased in Gloucester. And according to Dr. Davida Schiff, a BMC pediatrician who led a study by Boston University and Boston Medical Center, “In 417 cases where a person who visited the Gloucester police station was eligible for treatment, police data showed that 94.5 percent were offered direct placement and 89.7 percent enrolled in detox or other recovery services.”

Those numbers, reported in December by the New England Journal of Medicine, compared with less than 60% of direct referrals from hospital-based programs, which recruit patients who visit emergency rooms with substance-abuse disorders, Schiff said.

John Rosenthal, a Boston resident who is fighting the opioid epidemic, and Campanello are promoting the Angel Program in other states under a non-profit network called the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). The organization involves “private citizens, philanthropists, business owners, law enforcement leaders, and prominent members of the academic community” with a communal goal of “saving lives from drug overdoses, reducing the number of drug addicts and opioid drug demand, thereby devaluing a seemingly endless drug supply.”

 “The police have changed the conversation,” explained Rosenthal. “This is a conservative entity that has realistically concluded that you cannot arrest your way out of this public-health epidemic.”


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