Pubdate: Tue, 16 Jun 2015
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2015 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Ray Lamont

The Heroin Crisis: A 3-Day Series


When Gloucester began its new approach to fighting opioid abuse June 
1, police Chief Leonard Campanello couldn't predict whether "1 or 
100" people might take the department up on its promise to forsake 
drug possession arrests and instead offer drug users entry into 
treatment programs.

The first day did not draw a single taker in a city that has had five 
reported overdose deaths this year - two more than in all of 2014.

As of Sunday, however, 17 people had come into the police station and 
asked to be admitted to the so-called angel program, where an addict 
seeking help and willing to hand over drugs or paraphernalia is 
paired with a volunteer "angel" who helps the person toward treatment 
and recovery, beginning with a transport to Gloucester's Addison 
Gilbert Hospital.

Campanello said a "handful" of those who have entered the program 
have also turned in their remaining drugs for police disposal. All 
were being treated through one of the facilities that have signed on 
as program partners - from Lahey Health and Addison Gilbert, to the 
Worcester home port of Spectrum Health Systems Inc.

The program has sparked praise from local anti-opioid activists like 
Gary Langis, who's been involved in pushing for better public access 
to the drug Narcan, and is one of the founders of Gloucester's annual 
vigil to remember those lives lost to addiction.

"At the beginning, I was cautiously optimistic," Langis said of the 
program, which has drawn endorsements from local state and federal 
lawmakers, along with the state's Major Cities Police Chiefs 
Association and the Essex Police Chiefs Association. "But even 
helping that first person makes it a successful program. If you can 
help even one person - and potentially save his or her life - that's awesome.

"For so long, there have been so many obstacles and delays it seems 
in the way of getting people help," Langis continued, citing 
insurance coverage and even the processing time in admitting addicts 
to hospitals. "I've seen people wait for 24 hours," he said, "and 
I've seen people run out after four hours because they can't take it. 
To have someone there with the person who wants to come clean has to help.

"To get 12 people into programs in two weeks? That's unbelievable," 
he said. (Five addicts have come forward since Langis was interviewed.)

The idea of assuring addicts they won't be arrested hasn't been 
universally applauded. Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, in 
a letter to Campanello a week before the program's launch, cautioned 
the chief could be overstepping his bounds by ensuring the addicts 
would not be charged. Yet the district attorney's office charges and 
prosecutes those who have been arrested, and Campanello - who has 
compared the program to gun buyback programs - has side-stepped that 
concern by using "police discretion" in not arresting those who come in.

There are components to the program beyond the angel project. Three 
Gloucester pharmacies have signed on to partner with the Police 
Department to provide lower-cost and better access to nasal Narcan, 
which temporarily reverses the effects of a heroin overdose. The 
Police Department also will cover the cost of providing Narcan to 
addicts or their loved ones who do not have insurance coverage for it.

Walgreens spokeswoman Emily Hartwig said her company could not 
provide figures as to how many people may have sought Narcan under 
the program at the Gloucester pharmacy, and pharmacist Elaine Burnett 
at CVS' Main Street pharmacy said that store had not yet had any takers.

But Bill Caperci, a pharmacist at Conley's Drug Store - on Railroad 
Avenue and within easy walking distance of two of Gloucester's three 
2014 overdose deaths - said his shop has had "a few" customers ask 
for Narcan, perhaps two in each of the program's first two weeks.

"Already, we've changed the conversation from enforcement to 
treatment," Campanello said. "And we've seen trust building between 
police and those dealing with addiction. I believe we're saving 
lives, and those are successes right there."

Langlis is optimistic, too.

"I'm sure there are a few wrinkles," Langis said. "And I'm sure there 
will be more. But, for one of the first times, I see things 
happening, and I see changes. It's encouraging - really encouraging."


The Heroin Crisis: A 3-Day Series

Day 1: How did we fail?

Day 2: Where are we now?

Day 3: Does anyone know what to do? Where to Find Help
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom