Overdoses now cause more deaths in Massachusetts than car crashes

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How Local Police Are Changing Addiction Treatment

March 17, 2016

Nathan Lamothe endured last winter's bitter cold on his family's unheated back porch.  He was rarely allowed inside their Fitchburg home.  

“I stole from everybody and anybody I could," says Lamothe.  "I hurt everybody I could, I burned every bridge I possibly could, if you gave me an inch, I took a mile."

Lamothe, who is 27, stole so he could buy heroin.  He tried to get sober for years, but it was not until his family kicked him out of the porch last spring that he hit rock bottom.

I called every detox within 40, 50 miles and they're all backed up.

Nathan Lamothe, former heroin user

“I called every detox within 40, 50 miles, and they’re all backed up," recalls Lamothe. "They have four week waits, ten week waits."

He was living on the streets and  - so desperate  - he agreed when his mother suggested he turn himself into police.   They went to a police station 80 miles away in the town of Gloucester.   His mother had seen a Gloucester Police Facebook post which promised that instead of arresting addicts, police would help them.   The post went viral reaching more than two million people.

“We had people coming from California, the help was not there," says Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello. "When that person comes through the front door, they're our priority."

People who show up for addiction help are greeted by community volunteers.  Police make it their job to find treatment.  Here’s what happened the night Nathan LaMothe showed up.

I called every detox within 40, 50 miles and they're all backed up.

Nathan Lamothe, former heroin user

"We had seven people in the lobby," recalls Campanello.  "He came in and looked around and said there’s no way I’m getting anything, I remember talking to him and saying – 'you’re not leaving until we get you treatment'."

Lamothe was in detox that night.  Police stayed involved in his case, facilitating longterm treatment – at his request – in Florida.  Seven months later Lamothe remains in recovery and closely connected to Chief Campanello.

“He's one of my main supporters," says Lamothe, who recalls how during his years of addiction he was repeatedly arrested for drug related crimes. "To me, it's usually running from them (police), hiding from them or being arrested by them.  It's never been I'm going to help you and you don't have to worry about being an addict again."

Lamothe is one of four hundred people Gloucester police have connected to drug treatment.   Their involvement is disruptive, a challenge to business as usual.

"We’ll ask if they have a male detox bed and they’ll say no, but we have a female one," explain Campanello. "And we’ll say why can’t you move the female bed into the male section?  Because it’s never been done before.  Can you ask?  And they find out you can they place someone.” 

The chief’s approach to addiction generated so much attention from other departments that he started a nonprofit to support police efforts to assist – rather than arrest – addicts.  So far, seventy-five other police departments have signed on.

They're cops and they don't take no for an answer.

David Rosenbloom, Boston University Professor of Public Health

"All of a sudden all over the country there are police departments trying to pry open this entrance to treatment,” says David Rosenbloom, a Boston University public health professor.   "They're cops and they don't take no for an answer."

He's now following up with the people who have gone to police for help and says the data offers a rare look at a large cohort of people seeking addiction treatment.

 "Did they get to that next step?  If not, why not?  Is their insurance covering them the way it’s supposed to under federal law and state law?" says Rosenbloom.  "The reality in addiction treatment is that there’s never been continuity or accountability.”

Nathan LaMothe is back in Fitchburg only to visit.  He’s now living in a group house for people in recovery and is in line for a promotion at work.  He's even saved enough money to buy himself a moped.

“ It gets me to and fro and its more than I had up here seven months ago.  I couldn’t even get a sandwich," he says with a laugh.  "I have hope."

 


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