The Opioid Epidemic: Rural Organizations Fight Back

cheif-camp“We’re addressing the epidemic of opioid use and abuse in a way law enforcement doesn’t typically address an issue,” stated Gloucester Police Chief Lenard Campanello when discussing how the Massachusetts town is handling the opioid crisis.

Since 2015, the police station in Gloucester has become a safe space for people seeking help for substance use. Anyone suffering with an addiction can walk into the Gloucester Police Department (GPD) where existing staff works to place them into treatment. Any drugs turned in are properly disposed of without charges.

Gloucester has experienced amazing results from what is known as their “ANGEL” program. Over 430 patients have been referred to treatment and overnight incarceration costs have dropped 75 percent.

With a population of 29,000 and less than 40 miles from Boston, Gloucester isn’t considered rural by most commonly-used definitions. However, the GDP’s achievements gave life to the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PARRI), which is a partnership of over 100 police departments and 250 treatment facilities across the U.S. Many of these affiliated police departments are rural and mimic the ANGEL program step-by-step. The National Rural Health Association’s new policy paper on the rural opioid crisis urges more rural communities to explore the use of the Gloucester model and other unprecedented programs to combat opioid addiction.

Small town life has been turned upside down by opioid use, but across the nation, communities are implementing concrete and innovative tactics to get the problem of opioid drug abuse under control. It all just takes some inspiration, a little teamwork, and thinking outside of the box.

The Love of the Law

“We have partnered with treatment centers to ensure that our patients receive the care and treatment they deserve – not in days or weeks, but immediately,” proclaims the Dixon (IL) Police website. “All you have to do is come to the police station or sheriff’s department and ask for help. We are here to do just that.”

Dixon is just one rural police department utilizing the ANGEL program, and the news of its success is spreading fast. In Creston, Ohio, the Second Chance Drug Initiative takes its wording directly from Gloucester’s ANGEL program. Another rural police department inspired by Gloucester, Middlebury Police Department in Vermont has held disposal events for unused or expired medication for the past three years. Now partnered with PARRI, Middlebury, like many others, has expanded opioid services to help those in need of treatment.

Campanello noted that his department and others try to help people afflicted with the disease of addiction as opposed to arresting and incarcerating drug users.

“Law enforcement can be a voice on the demand side of the drug equation after we’ve been the strongest voice on the supply side for a long time,” said Campanello. “We haven’t been accomplishing much in terms of reducing addiction or reducing the number the drug dealers out there.”

Aside from national success in urban and rural areas with facilitating recovery for people suffering opioid addiction, Campanello feels one of the best outcomes of these programs happens at the local level.

“Treating the individual with passion, dignity, professionalism and attempting to help first —that’s brought about a trust with police departments in a demographic that didn’t exist before,” said Campanello. “That’s paid huge dividends for the public and the police in terms of getting closer together to solve problems.”

When asked if these programs enable users, Campanello stated law enforcement isn’t in a position to judge. The Chief said their role is to facilitate help where they can and to hold people accountable when they have to, but to never judge in either circumstance.

“How do you enable cancer? How do you enable diabetes or heart disease?” asked Campanello. “I think when scientifically and medically proven to be a disease of the brain, enabling doesn’t even have a point in the conversation.”

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