The small seaport artists’ colony and fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, made headlines in the summer of 2015 with news of its Volunteer ANGEL Program, which enlists police and civilian volunteers in directing addicts to treatment rather than jail. Breathtakingly simple in concept, the Gloucester Police Department (GPD) will call a volunteer “ANGEL” to escort any addict who shows up at their door to one of several treatment facilities with which they’ve partnered. Drugs and paraphernalia will be disposed of, no questions asked, no arrest, no charges, no jail.
As of mid-August 2015, 109 addicts, about 70 percent of them men, had sought help, at a cost to the police department of about $5,000 (Marcelo 2015). This would appear to support the studies that have shown that every $1 of treatment costs saves $4–$7 in criminal justice costs, and as much as $12 when healthcare savings are included (NIDA 2012).
Although other municipalities have expressed interest in adopting the program, developed by GPD Police Chief Leonard Campanello to address the growing numbers of opioid overdoses in the community, the local county prosecutor has expressed concern that the police do not have unilateral authority to not arrest addicts. Individuals with multiple prior drug-related convictions, outstanding warrants, the potential for violence, and minors lacking parental consent are not eligible for the program. Those exhibiting signs of withdrawal or other obvious medical conditions are transported to a local hospital.
In addition, the GPD has arranged with local pharmacies to make nasal Narcan® (naloxone), the drug that reverses opioid overdoses almost instantaneously, available at no cost. This program is funded by funds seized through federal and state asset forfeiture in adjudicated drug cases.
Like Chief Campanello, other members of law enforcement are also moving to a more disease-oriented view of addiction and less of a crime approach, having seen the failure of the nation’s drug policies “to effectively address the problems of drug abuse, especially the problems of juvenile drug use, the problems of addiction, and the problems of crime created by criminal control of illegal drug sales” (LEAP 2015). The members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) include current and retired police officers, prosecutors, judges and other members of the criminal justice system from the U.S. and overseas who believe that the so-called War on Drugs has made these societal problems worse, rather than improving them, and that “A system of regulation and control of these substances (by the government, replacing the current system of control by the black market) would be a less harmful, less costly, more ethical, and more effective public policy” (LEAP 2015).
Chief Campanello’s effort has received the support of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police, the Massachusetts Major Cities Chiefs Association, and others. Among other cities starting to follow suit, Arlington, Massachusetts, is incorporating outreach to lists of arrested drug dealers’ customers (The Arlington Outreach Initiative 2015).
As with other parts of the U.S., the Northeast region is suffering a major heroin epidemic, producing a surge of overdoses and drug-related medical costs (Pilcher & Bernard-Kuhn 2015). The traditional criminal justice approach has not worked, and Gloucester’s ANGEL program demonstrates a new cooperative effort between law enforcement and the addiction treatment community.
Gloucester Police Department. 2015. For Addicts and their Friends, Families, and Caregivers. http://gloucesterpd.com/addicts/
Gloucester Police Department. 2015. Volunteer ANGEL Program. http://paariusa.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/46/2015/08/Angel-program-policy-Aug-7-2015.pdf
Horgan, S. 2015. “Angel” program takes in its first patient. Gloucester Times, June 2, 2015. http://www.gloucestertimes.com/heroin_epidemic/angel-program-takes-in-first-patient/article_0893fe12-0968-11e5-a5af-a316afe1daa6.html
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). n.d. About Us. http://www.leap.cc/about/who-we-are/
Marcelo, P. 2015. Addict amnesty: A different way out for one Mass. town. Providence (RI) Journal, August 15, 2015.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 2012. Is Drug Addiction Treatment Worth Its Cost? “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) FAQ. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/drug-addiction-treatment-worth-its-cost
Pilcher, J. & Bernard-Kuhn, L. 2014. Chasing the Heroin Resurgence. USA Today, June 6, 2014.
The Arlington Outreach Initiative. 2015. http://paariusa.org/arlington/