The outbreak of HIV in Indiana, linked to needle sharing among intravenous drug users, has brought the United States' drug-addiction epidemic back into the spotlight, along with the looming question: What to do about it?
Though Indiana is very publicly and desperately in crisis right now, the addiction issue is a national one. Overdose deaths are the number one cause of injury-related death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and deaths from both prescription painkillers and heroin quadrupled between 1999-2000 and 2013. These increases go hand in hand—surveys done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that half of young heroin users report first having abused prescription opioids.
In response to all this, and in the wake of four local deaths linked to drug overdose so far in 2015, the police department of Gloucester, Massachusetts announced a new policy on its Facebook page last week. The post, which now has more than 27,000 likes, reads:
PLEASE READ THIS POST:
On Saturday, May 2, the City held a forum regarding the opiate crisis, and on how Gloucester has many resources for help. We are poised to make revolutionary changes in the way we treat this DISEASE. Your Police Department vowed to take the following measures to assist, beginning June 1, 2015:
- 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. We will assign them an "angel" who will be their guide through the process. Not in hours or days, but on the spot. Addison Gilbert and Lahey Clinic have committed to helping fast track people that walk into the police department so that they can be assessed quickly and the proper care can be administered quickly.
- Nasal Narcan has just been made available at local pharmacies without a prescription. The police department has entered into an agreement with Conleys and is working on one with CVS that will allow anyone access to the drug at little to no cost regardless of their insurance. The police department will pay the cost of nasal Narcan for those without insurance. We will pay for it with money seized from drug dealers during investigations. We will save lives with the money from the pockets of those who would take them. We recognize that nasal Narcan is not the answer, but it is saving lives and no one in this City will be denied a life-saving drug for this disease just because of a lack of insurance. Conleys has also agreed to assist with insurance requests from those who do not have any.
- I will personally travel to Washington, D.C., with the support of Mayor Theken, the City Council, Sen. Bruce Tarr, and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, on May 12 and 13. There I will meet with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton. I will bring what Gloucester is accomplishing and challenge them to change, at the federal level, how we receive aid, support, and assistance. I will bring the idea of how far Gloucester is willing to go to fight this disease and will ask them to hold federal agencies, insurance companies, and big business accountable for building a support system that can eradicate opiate addiction and provide long-term, sustainable support to reduce recidivism.
I am asking for your help. Like this post, send it to everyone you can think of and ask them to do the same. Speak your comments. Create strength in numbers. I will bring it with me to show how many voters are concerned about this issue. Lives are literally at stake. I have been on both sides of this issue, having spent seven years as a plainclothes narcotics detective. I have arrested or charged many addicts and dealers. I've never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance. The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.
Please help us make permanent change here in Gloucester.
This is a radical approach, and stands in stark contrast to the reluctance exhibited by Governor Mike Pence in Indiana, who authorized a temporary needle-exchange program in Scott County, but continued to voice his general opposition to such programs. The response in Facebook comments to Gloucester’s initiative is mostly positive, and the police department has been cordially answering negative comments. In response to one woman who wrote, in part, “You did it to yourself, you knew it was a bad choice before you did it and you chose to anyways. Take responsibility for your own actions,” the GPD Facebook replied, “Thank you for your comment. Please read the research before you call it a choice. I agree that no one forces a pill down your throat, but once you're at the stage of addiction, the brain and body take over … it's not your choice … I did this work for a long time and believed how you do at one point. But I've read the research and I've changed my opinion.”