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First-year numbers from police program show success in referring to treatment

December 27, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Statistics published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that a pioneering program in which local police refer individuals with opioid use disorders to treatment is more successful than hospital-based initiatives in linking users to needed services.

The published correspondence, which shares data from the first year of the Gloucester, Mass., ANGEL Initiative but is not from a controlled study, was written by leaders at Boston Medical Center and the Boston University School of Public Health, including a board member of the national Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.).

The correspondence to the journal editor, published Dec. 22, states that among the 394 treatment-eligible individuals who sought help through Gloucester police from June 2015 to May 2016, 94.5% received a direct placement to treatment. “The high direct-referral rate of 94.5% exceeds those reported for hospital-based initiatives that are designed to provide immediate access to detoxification and treatment,” the journal article states.

In addition, 95% of those who were offered a placement entered the treatment program, and nine-month follow-up calls to participants confirmed a high level of treatment engagement.

“The astounding fact is that people came to the police station for help, and they got it,” David Rosenbloom, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and a P.A.A.R.I. board member, said in a news release from the national organization.

Rosenbloom added, “In our follow-up calls, participants told us that the police station was the first place they had ever sought help without being judged and stigmatized.”

Numerous police agencies across the country have followed Gloucester's lead in establishing within their departments a safe haven for opioid users who want treatment for a substance use disorder.

Reaching beyond the borders

The published correspondence states that many individuals from outside of Gloucester benefited from that community's ANGEL Initiative. Of those who sought treatment through the initiative in the first year, only 11.8% were Gloucester residents. More than double that number lived in surrounding communities in the county where Gloucester is located. Another 16.8% of those seeking help were homeless.

Among the small percentage of eligible individuals who did not receive a treatment placement through the initiative, reasons for that failure included out-of-state residency, inadequate insurance, or lack of an available treatment bed.

The news release from P.A.A.R.I. points out what the national organization sees as a major shortcoming in the traditional system for accessing treatment. It states, “The report also echoes the concerns long raised by the Gloucester Police Department, P.A.A.R.I., and its partners nationwide that there is too much subjectivity and discretion among individual treatment providers and no clear path to recovery for individuals in need. P.A.A.R.I. Partners have stepped up to fill the unmet need.”

Municipal departments that have followed Gloucester's lead generally work with a network of treatment providers who have committed to assisting the population identified through the initiative.