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Ticket to Rehab: One Police Chief Wants Addicts to Trade Their Opioids for Treatment

The police chief in Gloucester, Mass., is taking the law into his own hands.

But instead of using his position of power to extort money from known criminals or cover-up shortfalls in his department, Leonard Campanello tries to save the lives of admitted drug addicts.

Leonard Campanello was selected in 2012 as the Chief of Police for the City of Gloucester. Photo via Gloucester PD

Leonard Campanello was selected in 2012 as the Chief of Police for the City of Gloucester. Photo via Gloucester PD

Campanello, 48, started his crusade in May with a simple Facebook comment that vocalized what many of us already know to be true: the war on drugs has already been lost.

Facing a spike in heroin and opioid-related deaths in his community, Campanello crafted a lengthy post that offered any addict a trade: Bring in your drugs, he promised, and you’ll receive a bed in rehab.

The post spread quickly among the community, garnering upwards of 63,000 likes and shares, and 4,000 comments — mostly supportive of the chief’s new weapon in the drug war: compassion.

“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,” the post says.

Simple enough, but Campanello’s newly dubbed Gloucester’s Angel program (after the ‘sponsor’ or ‘guide’ each addict would be assigned) would not come without criticism.

Critics say the chief didn’t have the authority to grant amnesty when he chooses. The law determined who should go to jail even if they were turning in their illegal drugs and seeking help. However, other police departments tired of waging a losing battle soon rallied around the Gloucester program.

After all, that small Massachusetts town wasn’t the only one struggling with the aftermath of a failed drug war. Heroin and prescription pain pills killed more than 47,000 people in 2015 — more than murder, suicide or car accidents.

Campanello isn’t ready to give up on addicts, calling their addictions a “disease.” And so far more than 50 police departments in 17 states have modeled programs after his. Hundreds more programs around the country are in the planning stages. Nearly 200 treatment facilities have joined the ranks.

In the meantime, Campanello’s staff stays busy calling treatment facilities to find beds for the hundreds of addicts who turn up, which is no easy task. Of the 391 people already placed in a facility, only 40 percent of them are locals.

As hard as it all is, failure is still harder. So far the department has learned of one death among the hundreds who have been helped: a 33-year-old woman who, having relapsed for a third time, overdosed and was found dead.

Her death only inspired more support from those who believe in the program. “I know it’s successful,” a tearful Campanello told reporters at a press conference. “And I know we’re saving lives. But we worry about the one we lost.”

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