Police tout success in unique fight against drug epidemic

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BOSTON (AP) -- A police chief in a New England town combating its drug epidemic through a unique program that allows drug users to turn over their drugs and get immediate treatment said Tuesday that there's been a strong early response.

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello said that 17 addicts abusing opioids like heroin, morphine and oxycodone have so far taken up the department's offer to turn over their drugs and paraphernalia without fear of arrest - as long as they agree to enter treatment on the spot.

He said while the number appears modest, it represents over three times the amount of people who have died of drug overdoses this year in the seaside community of about 29,000.

The success in Gloucester has caught the attention of other communities, notably Boston where Mayor Marty Walsh said he's considering adopting the policy for New England's largest city. He called it a "great idea and a great pilot program."

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Police tout success in unique fight against drug epidemic
In this May 13, 2015 photo, the contents of a drug overdose rescue kit is seen at a training session in Buffalo, N.Y., on how to administer naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin and prescription painkillers. The kits are being provided to community members in Erie County who seek training in how to recognize a potential drug overdose and administer naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin and prescription painkillers. New York and other states have been equipping lay people, as well first responders and families of addicts, with naloxone in an effort to increase the chances it will be there when needed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)
In Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo Ryan Kinsella poses outside his bicycle repair business in Penobscot, Maine. Kinsella broke his back in a rock climbing accident in 2002. The accident left him with partially paralyzed legs. He is recovering from a long battle with hepatitis C., which he contracted by sharing IV drug needles. The rise of cheap heroin has brought a rise in hepatitis C. Perhaps nowhere is the problem starker than in Downeast Maine, which has the highest hepatitis C rate in a state with quintuple the national average. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
An anti-narcotics agent walks over seized drugs as the narcotics are prepared to be burned in Panama City, Thursday, July 23, 2015. According to authorites, they incinerated six tons of drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and heroin, all seized within the last month. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
This April 28, 2015, photo provided by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office shows a portion of recently confiscated heroin. Authorities in Philadelphia say a drug probe led to the confiscation of 22 pounds of heroin with a street value of $3.3 million. (Philadelphia District Attorney's Office via AP)
This Wednesday, June 10, 2015 photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, packages of hard drugs are seen in the rear driver side quarter panel of a car carrying more than $377,000 worth of heroin and methamphetamine, seized at the U.S.-Mexico border port of entry in Nogales, Ariz. Authorities are reporting an alarming increase in the number of methamphetamine seizures at border ports of entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)
In this Jan. 27, 2015 photo, a dead poppy flower stands out after the government aerially sprayed the poppy field with a herbicide in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains of Guerrero state, Mexico. A community leader said the aerial spraying "poisons the land, the water, and the people and animals who use the water. It's okay if the government wants to combat these crops, but they should do it manually, on the ground, rather than with aerial spraying." (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
This April 28, 2015, photo provided by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office shows a portion of recently confiscated heroin. Authorities in Philadelphia say a drug probe led to the confiscation of 22 pounds of heroin with a street value of $3.3 million. (Philadelphia District Attorney's Office via AP)
A firearm and 154 pounds of heroin worth at least $50 million are displayed at a Drug Enforcement Administration news conference, Tuesday, May 19, 2015 in New York. The DEA called the heroin seizure its largest ever in New York state. Officials said on Tuesday that most of the drugs were found in an SUV in the Bronx following a wiretap investigation. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
This Tuesday, April 7, 2015 photo provided by the FBI shows seized guns displayed during a news conference in Santa Maria, Calif. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller says that agents and local law enforcement officers raided houses Tuesday, April 7, 2015, morning and made arrests in the Santa Maria area related to a federal indictment. The indictment charges five members of a family and seven others with selling heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. The 17-count indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court says they sold some drugs to informants working with federal agents. (AP Photo/FBI)
In this March 2, 2015 photo, Alicia Gibbons holds an empty bottle of naloxone that she used to save the life of her daughter Ashley at their home in Mays Landing, N.J. Officials across the country are agreeing that it makes sense to hand out the antidote to police, families of addicts and drug users themselves but price of naloxone, sold in the U.S. under the brand name Narcan, has doubled in the past year. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
This photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, and provided by Delaware State Police, shows what they say are 15,000 packets heroin found in the car of Davon Tucker, of Paterson, N.J., during a traffic stop in Milton, Del. (AP Photo/Delaware State Police)
In this Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 photo, powder flies as an anti-narcotics agent hacks open a package of cocaine with a machete before it's burned on the outskirts of Panama City. According to police, they'll destroy on Friday just over 11 tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, seized within the last three months. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
An anti-narcotics agent holds a machete as he prepares to hack open packages of cocaine before they're burned on the outskirts of Panama City, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. According to police, on Friday they'll destroy just over 11 tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, seized within the last three months. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
An anti-narcotics agent sprays gasoline on seized drugs to be burned on the outskirts of Panama City, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. According to police, on Friday they'll destroy just over 11 tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, seized within the last three months. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
Criminal experts display glasses filled with heroin at the headquarters of the federal police in Wiesbaden, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. German authorities have seized 330 kilograms (728 pounds) of heroin worth an estimated 50 million euros (US$63 million) that smugglers brought to Europe hidden in a shipment of cucumbers and garlic from Iran. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
A city employee organizes bags of seized cocaine to be destroyed at a police base in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Police say they burned on Tuesday more than 11 tons of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, opium and heroin that was seized over the last 5 months. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
EMBARGOED UNTIL 3 AM APRIL 28--Syringes are packaged at Boom Health center for distribution to drug addicted users, Friday April 25, 2014 in Bronx, N.Y. New York lawmakers are putting forward a package of legislation that seeks to fight the resurgence of heroin with tougher penalties for dealers, more funding for overdose-reversal drugs and increased insurance coverage for treatment. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 3: Peppermint Park in Portland Tuesday, August 3, 2015. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
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Campanello said it's time for this initiative to become more widespread. "We need to get people into treatment," he said. "If they fail, we need to get them into treatment again. Just keep trying. Arresting them or coercing them into treatment just doesn't work."

The growing interest in the program even prompted John Rosenthal, a Gloucester resident and Boston-area businessman, to help Campanello launch a privately funded nonprofit to bolster the effort.

Rosenthal said the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative will help coordinate treatment for addicts, support studies looking at the long-term effectiveness of the initiative and help other cities and towns replicate the efforts.

"This program is life-saving, from day one," Rosenthal said Tuesday. "And long term, it has the potential to change national drug and treatment policy."

The Gloucester program, which experts say is unique in the country, has been gaining steady ground after a slow start.

Campanello said the department didn't see a single taker the first day it was launched on June 1. Since then, he said, there have been about one to two addicts a day, on average.

After turning themselves into police, Campanello said the program's participants are no longer escorted to the local emergency room for evaluation. Instead, a clinician works with them on a treatment plan and facility location. A volunteer "angel" - sometimes a former addict themselves - remains with the person through the three-hour process.

Campanello said that extra costs have been "minimal" to the police department. Any costs incurred - under $1,000 - have been paid from the city's drug seizure money. State funding, he said, covers the costs of drug treatment for participants who are Massachusetts residents with no insurance plans or plans covering treatment.

While most addicts have been placed in substance abuse treatment programs in Massachusetts, service providers across the country have also stepped up.

Campanello said about 22 agencies in 15 states have even agreed to pay for the treatment of those without health insurance.

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