Many U.S. cities, and countries across the world, believe that handling drug-related issues should be a matter of criminal defense. They treat those suffering from addiction as criminals, and instead of providing them with the help they need to beat the addiction, incarcerate them and subject them to numerous legal penalties they may not deserve.
But in one Massachusetts town, things are drastically changing.
Following several drug overdose deaths in the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the city’s Chief of Police decided to take a unique approach to addiction, reaching out to those who may be struggling with drug-related issues on social media in hopes to provide them with the help they truly need.
“When you spend enough time with people who are addicted, and especially in the capacity of law enforcement, at first you feel like you are doing a great job by cutting off the supply,” said Leonard Campanello, Chief of Police, Gloucester, MA. “After a while, you realize the complete helplessness of the person that’s suffering from addiction and how arrest isn’t the answer.”
City statistics show that as of June, 137 people have turned themselves into the Gloucester Police Department, seeking help for their addiction and rehabilitation services. In other towns or countries, those who admit to having a drug problem may be immediately arrested and are subjected to spending years behind bars – never obtaining any kind of recovery assistance.
Campanello believes otherwise. He is in support of offering help to those who are brave enough to come forward and admit they have a problem, instead of labeling them as offenders.
“We wanted to make a bold and provocative statement and push that statement further up the ladder to the legislature and say that as a police department, we’re simply not going to arrest for the possession of this drug, if the person presents to the police department and asks for help,” added Campanello. “There’s no way we are going to arrest our way out of the addiction crisis in this country.”
Many addicts who are arrested either suffer from serious – and often deadly – withdrawal symptoms in jail, or delve even further into their addiction once they are released. Several individuals who are battling with addiction are also struggling with symptoms of depression, which incarceration only serves to exacerbate. Numerous addicts often end up overdosing or committing suicide in jail because they aren’t receiving the counseling they really need to overcome their dependency.
The Gloucester Police Department recognizes that addiction is a personal struggle that should be dealt with through rehabilitation services, not an offense that can be corrected through the criminal system. They have given several addicts the support and provided a source of strength to not only help individuals recover from their addiction, but stay clean throughout the process.
Nathan Lamothe is one of those individuals who turned to the Gloucester Police Department, and instead of being arrested, was turned to a rehab facility in Florida, which helped him achieve recovery through a personalized addiction treatment program.
Lamothe admits that when he first walked into the police station, he was nervous and certain he would be arrested and sent to jail. But the response he received was far from the cut-throat, no-forgiveness attitude he expected.
Instead of encountering officers who would label him as a criminal and take steps to send him to jail, he was treated with compassion.
“They asked if I was hungry, they asked if I was thirsty,” explained Lamothe.
Definitely not the typical response that the majority of addicts receive when turning to police, humbling themselves by admitting they have a problem they cannot tackle on their own.
“I got the strength to go to the Gloucester Police Department from my mother, but I got the hope to stay clean from the Gloucester Police Station,” admits Lamothe.
A heartwarming statement indeed, especially for Campanello, who is a firm believer in treating addiction as a solvable issue and not as an offense.
It is Campanello’s hope that by offering a different way to view addiction, and to provide individuals who are struggling to overcome their drug dependence with a safe place where they can turn to, that the number of people who will succumb to their addictions will decrease. It is also his hope that other police departments will learn from the example that the Gloucester Police Department has set and, with hope, follow suit.
Though Campanello’s views – and those of the Gloucester Police Department – are noteworthy, they only represent a minority of law enforcement beliefs. Luckily, anyone who is battling addiction and who has not committed a serious offense, such as drug trafficking or distribution, can turn to a criminal defense lawyer for assistance in protecting their rights and avoiding incarceration.
The penalties for drug-related offenses vary from state to state, but many times, those convicted of drug use are convicted of felony crimes. A skilled criminal defense attorney can assist in these situations and help their clients avoid jail and obtain the rehabilitation treatment they truly need to get sober.