- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

GLOUCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Gloucester police Chief Leonard Campanello’s phone was ringing off the hook Monday. The calls were generated by his and the city police force’s plan to tackle the opioid crisis here.

In the fight against opioid abuse, the expectation is that police will target the supply. Campanello’s plan turns that expectation on its head: Police here will work to cut the demand, and do it a compassionate way.

“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,” the plan reads. “Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery. We will assign them an ‘angel’ who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot.”

The Police Department also will pay the cost of nasal Narcan for those without insurance. Narcan is a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

And thirdly, Campanello plans to travel later this month with local lawmakers and leaders to tell Washington, D.C., how far Gloucester is willing to go to fight this disease.

Making a plan

The chief announced the plan Saturday at a “call to action” forum before a full crowd in City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium, attended by about 150 people, but wanted to spread the word further. So on Monday, at around 11 a.m., he posted the plan on the department’s official Facebook page.

By 1 p.m., the post had been shared 399 times, liked 400 times and commented on by 53 people. By 3 p.m., the numbers had more than doubled, and by 4 p.m., more than 60,000 people had seen it.

The plan was about two months in making, and began fermenting after March 6, when Campanello posted- again on Facebook -about four opioid overdose deaths that had taken place in Gloucester since the beginning of the year.

“We were charged by the administration to come up with new and innovative ideas that could augment the systems in place, such as the Health Department, in Gloucester,” Campanello said Monday evening.

“Everyone expects law enforcement to tackle the problem in the normal way,” he said. “But from my previous experience in narcotics work, I know cutting the supply doesn’t work, but if you work to cut demand, the supply will dry up. … Once you change that thought process, the implementation isn’t difficult. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime; it doesn’t interfere with law enforcement or my job.

“We initiated a provocative dialogue with lawmakers, business owners, and insurers to find ways to ensure addicts get the proper help they need.”

Enlisting ‘angels’

While his announcement that he wanted to use drug forfeiture money to buy nasal Narcan made headlines locally, it is the first step of the plan that may be the most revolutionary and is generating the most comment.

Addicts coming to the station will be assigned “an ‘angel’ who will guide them through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot,” Campanello wrote in his post. “Addison Gilbert and Lahey Clinic have committed to helping fast-track people that walk into the Police Department so that they can be assessed quickly and the proper care can be administered quickly.”

The angels?

“We have 40 to 50 people from all walks of life- some recovering addicts, some people who just recognize the agony of this disease -in the process of training,” Campanello said Monday evening. “There’s not a lot needed to train them, they just need to be a friend to talk with for those mired in the system, someone so an addict doesn’t have to walk alone.”

Campanello said Joan Whitney, director of the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative, has been instrumental in helping this part of the program up. Anyone interested in volunteering may contact the chief or Whitney for more information.

Narcan’s role

The second part of the chief’s plan involves nasal Narcan.

“The Police Department has entered into an agreement with Conley’s and is working on one with CVS (on Main Street) that will allow anyone access to the drug at little to no cost regardless of their insurance, ” the chief wrote. “The Police Department will pay the cost of nasal Narcan for those without insurance. We will pay for it with money seized from drug dealers during investigations. We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them. We recognize that nasal Narcan is not the answer, but it is saving lives and no one in this city will be denied a life-saving drug for this disease just because of a lack of insurance. Conley’s has also agreed to assist with insurance requests from those who do not have any.”

Capital message

And lastly, the chief will take this fight from Gloucester’s streets to the capital:

“I will personally travel to Washington D.C., with the support of Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, the City Council, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, on May 12 and 13. There I will meet with U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton. I will bring what Gloucester is accomplishing and challenge them to change, at the federal level, how we receive aid, support and assistance. I … will ask them to hold federal agencies, insurance companies and big business accountable for building a support system that can eradicate opiate addiction and provide long term, sustainable support to reduce recidivism.”

“I never met an addict who wanted to be an addict,” Campanello said Monday evening. “But unlike cigarettes, whose addicts are backed by insurers’ huge money, illegal addicts have none of these benefits.”

The chief and his department’s plan for fighting opioid abuse are getting a lot of attention- the phones ringing off the hook. “Our goal is about bringing it out of the shadows, and making businesses, lawmakers and insurers part of the solution.”

And that Facebook post? Almost all the comments on the plan are positive.

“60,000 people can’t all be wrong,” Campanello said.

___

Information from: Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, https://www.gloucestertimes.com

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