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Momentum grows in police/treatment collaborations to fight opioid addiction

August 7, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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The Gloucester, Mass., Police Department made national headlines this year when it announced a major policy shift allowing any drug addict who came to the department seeking help to avoid arrest and be referred for treatment services. Since that policy took effect in June, momentum has gradually been building in a national effort to partner police departments with treatment organizations in order to stem the tide of opioid addiction.

The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) has grown out of the local efforts of Gloucester and its police chief, Leonard Campanello. More than 90 individuals from Gloucester and surrounding communities have been placed in local or out-of-state addiction treatment programs since June 1 as a result of that community's policy shift, and more local police departments and treatment facilities around the country are beginning to take notice.

“Law enforcement agencies should be part of the solution to addiction, not just an arresting authority,” says John Guilfoil, who conducts media relations activity for the Gloucester department and other public safety agencies.

Guilfoil says around two dozen treatment facilities, including several in treatment resource-rich Florida, are among the centers that have reached out to partner with the Gloucester department as well as other law enforcement agencies. This week, the music-oriented South Florida treatment facility Recovery Unplugged announced that it has joined the Gloucester initiative.

Under the Gloucester effort, a clinician assesses the help-seeking individual and determines the type of services needed and which participating facility might offer the best match.

“We're essentially looking for any and every center” to be involved with P.A.R.R.I., says Guilfoil, as the initiative attempts to identify scholarship opportunities for persons with addictions and limited means.

Police departments' approaches

The pioneering Gloucester effort involves individuals in the community coming forward to seek help, offering them the opportunity to turn in their drug supply to police under no threat of arrest. Some other communities, including Arlington, Mass., are taking a slightly different approach. In that city, Guilfoil explains, a public health clinician is engaging in direct community outreach in order to identify individuals who may need treatment services. This in part involves reaching out to customers of arrested drug dealers, again with a treatment- and not punishment-focused mindset, he says.

Guilfoil says Gloucester officials have been pleased with the local initiative's early results. “People in the city have been very supportive,” he says. “It's a close-knit community. People there get involved in each other's business.”

The larger P.A.A.R.I. initiative also is seeking to expand access to the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone (Narcan). Mission statement language on the P.A.A.R.I. website states that “while it is not a panacea, Narcan can save the life of an overdose patient and give that person another opportunity to get into treatment and fight their disease.”

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