Mass. Police Department Says It Will No Longer Arrest Drug Addicts

A police department in Massachusetts says it’s changing its approach when it comes to drug addiction.  Instead of filling the jails, Chief Campanello of the Gloucester Police Department said in a Facebook post that he’s going to offer drug users an alternative.

Beginning June 1st, 2015, police in Gloucester, MA will not arrest opiate addicts who walk into the police station, turn over their drugs and paraphernalia, and ask for help.  The police department says they are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way they treat addiction. 

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. We will assign them an “angel” who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot. 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 police department is working with local pharmacies to provide nasal narcan (an opiate antidote) to addicts without insurance, for little or no cost .  They say they’ll pay for it with money they seize from drug dealers.

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.

The Chief of Police says he’s taking his idea to Washington D.C.

There I will meet with Senators 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 bring the idea of how far Gloucester is willing to go to fight this disease and 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.

He continues:

Lives are literally at stake. I have been on both sides of this issue, having spent 7 years as a plainclothes narcotics detective. I have arrested or charged many addicts and dealers. I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance. The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.

This isn’t exactly a new idea, in 2000 Portugal decriminalized all drugs and shifted funding towards treatment.  10 years later, health experts said drug abuse dropped by half.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s,”

Drug laws in America don’t only fail to stop drug abuse, they’re an assault on civil liberties and basic human rights.  The stigma created by years of law enforcement propaganda has led to heinous practices such as the infamous Stop & Frisk policy in New York and No Knock Raids that result in so many tragic stories we see of people being killed by the police in their own homes.

In 2013, out of 1,501,043 arrests for drug law violations in America, over 80% were for possession of a controlled substance (meaning they weren’t distributors).  Between 2001 and 2013, more than half of prisoners serving sentences of over a year in federal prisons were convicted of drug offenses.

People with criminal records face unprecedented employment challenges.  States have collectively adopted more than 30,000 laws that restrict access to employment and other basic rights, according to the Nation Employment Law Project.

There’s extensive data that drug laws are enforced disproportionately with racial disparities.

Drug laws are also responsible for disenfranchising approximately 1 of every 40 adults due to a current or previous felony conviction which flies in the face at the notion of democracy.

Like the war on terror, the war on drugs is framed as a response to an exceptional, existential threat to our health, our security, and indeed the very fabric of society. The ‘Addiction to narcotic drugs’ is portrayed as an ‘evil’ the international community has a moral duty to ‘combat’ because it is a ‘danger of incalculable gravity’ that warrants a series of (otherwise publicly unacceptable) extraordinary measures. This is not an exaggeration of the political rhetoric. This crusading language has created a political climate in which drug war policy and enforcement are not required to meet human rights norms.”
Campanello’s decision may or may not lead to national reforms but it will set a precedent and serve as a real life example of an alternative way to “serve and protect”.
Perhaps, other agencies should follow Campanello’s lead.  Arresting drug users doesn’t accomplish anything besides maintaining the largest prison population on earth, it’s past time to re-think criminalizing addiction.

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Dylan Donnelly

Artist and Photojournalist from Fresno, CA Editor at Fresno People's Media & admin of Cop Block Fresno, CA Follow me on Twitter and Facebook Subscribe to my Youtube Channel