Care and compassion Global

Choosing compassion to help break addiction

Breaking the cycle

A USA police chief has chosen a novel strategy for preventing overdoses: compassion – and it’s having amazing results.

The message from the chief lit up Facebook in May 2015:

“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. Not in hours or days, but on the spot.”

The stunning memo was a last-ditch attempt by Leonard Campanello, Gloucester’s frustrated chief of police, after the town’s fourth fatal opiate overdose in the first few months of 2015 — more than had died by drug overdose the entire previous year. Campanello’s words, written in the straight-talking lingo of a police officer who means business, set off a chain of events even the seasoned chief couldn’t have predicted.

Since that 2015 message, more than 450 addicts from across the state have walked through the police station’s doors. Nearly all have been placed into treatment, some multiple times. Rates of crimes typically associated with substance abuse — like shoplifting and breaking and entering — in Gloucester have plummeted by roughly 30 percent. Only one person has overdosed and died in Gloucester.

How the idea has spread

Today, roughly 140 police departments in more than 25 states are affiliated with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI, the nonprofit group that spun out of Campanello’s proclamation.

Some 300 treatment centres around the country offer free scholarships and priority placement to patients seeking treatment through police stations. For rural New Mexican towns with high addiction rates, the program would represent a change in tack for law enforcement officers that have long focused on locking up addicts — even if scant resources present an obstacle to implementation.

How It Works

In Gloucester, the program begins when an addict walks into the station, asking for help. A designated officer conducts a quick interview, followed by calls to treatment centres that have agreed to work closely with the police. If a person is carrying drugs, syringes or other paraphernalia, the police dispose of it — no questions asked. Revenue from fines paid by convicted drug dealers pays for the bulk of the program.

No two programs nationwide are identical, nor are all located in sprawling east coast cities. Among the small towns adopting this no-arrest motto is Dixon, Illinois, a town of 15,000 about 100 miles from Chicago. A year ago, after three fatal overdoses in 10 days, the town gathered in search of solutions. Danny Langloss, chief of police in Dixon, was at the meeting when he heard a woman in recovery from addiction explain how Gloucester — a town 1,000 miles away — was trying to help its addicts.

“The woman asked, ‘Would you be willing to try that?’ Langloss said. “The sheriff and I looked at each other and we said, ‘Yeah.'”

Langloss’ willingness to adopt Gloucester’s model was borne of desperation. During his 20 years as a police officer in Dixon, Langloss had observed that addicts were disproportionately responsible for property crimes and petty theft. While he occasionally tried to find help for an addict on his own, treatment centres always told him they were full. He dealt with the grandchildren of people he’d arrested in the 1990s, and saw addiction devastate families.

We’ve been frustrated for a long time,” Langloss said. What we’re doing isn’t working.

After a phone call with Campanello, the Gloucester chief, Langloss personally toured nearby treatment facilities; 10 signed on altogether.

Today, addicts who walk through Langloss’ doors meet an officer, who begins by conducting a 20-minute interview to collect the basics, including name and medical history. Then Langloss or one of three other trained officers calls treatment partners, asking if they have space available.

To date, Langloss and his team have placed roughly 99 people in treatment, most within a few hours of their arrival. Others, especially those who come in after working hours, find a slot the next day. In about 10 cases involving nonviolent crimes like shoplifting or trespassing, police have worked with the state attorney’s office to quash an outstanding warrant.

Most referrals come through word of mouth. That was the case for Katelynn Lahman, 21, whose mother called Dixon police after she learned her daughter was using heroin. Langloss helped Lahman find a centre that could provide detox and accommodate her medical conditions, and a plane ticket and scholarship to a rehab centre in Florida. Nearly a year later, Langloss checks in with Lahman via text messages. How are you doing? How’s work going?

He sees me as a human being,” Lahman said. And that has made all the difference.

Source:Leah Todd reporter for the Journalism Solutions Network in Taos, New Mexico.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, you can contact the Alcohol and Drug Helpline here or The Salvation Army here.


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1 Comment

  • This is a great story about how treating people with dignity, regardless of their circumstances can change them for the better. A few years ago I spent a week with a team in a prison ministering to some prisoners. I discovered that these people had a lot of goodness in them and were so grateful that we were there to listen and encourage them and treat them with respect.

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