Last spring, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello posted on Facebook that any drug addict who turned in their drugs and came clean would be sent to a drug treatment program—not to jail. That Facebook post may have sparked a revolution within the criminal justice system, and changed the national conversation on substance abuse, among local governments and presidential candidates alike.
According to Campanello, the program was inspired by the community of Gloucester, including one young man in particular, who proved to the police that the system was running them in circles. “There was a young man in my former community that we dealt with a lot, and his story was very tragic,” Campanello said. “[He was] addicted at 12 years old, and spent seven years until he succumbed to the illness. At that time, there were no options for police to intervene.”
The police department knew they needed to do something— and the Gloucester Angel Program was born. “Traditionally, we would treat addicts the same way we would treat any criminal, which is arrest them for the possession of an illegal drug,” Campanello said. “In this case, after 50 or 60 years of a failed war on drugs, or actually, addicted people—we decided we would change up things a little bit and invite addicted people to come forward before any crimes are committed, before they are using drugs to a point where they end up in an overdose situation, and offer them an opportunity to facilitate treatment for them.”
So far, more than 400 addicts have turned themselves into the program, and 50-60 ‘angels’ are assigned to help addicts along the process. “We have so many great volunteers who work on this program,” Campanello said. “...more than we can actually pair with an addicted person. They come in and sit with an addicted person while we facilitate treatment.”
So why now?
“I think we’ve seen an increase in availability, I think we’ve seen a decrease in price of heroin, and I think we’ve also seen it sort of enter mainstream society,” Campanello said. “You’re seeing this in suburbia, where you wouldn’t typically expect a drug scourge to hit, but it does affect everyone.”
Leonard Campanello is the Gloucester, Mass. Police Chief. To hear his full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.