A police program in northern Massachusetts that helps fast-track heroin addicts into treatment is catching on in other states and showing signs of reducing crimes associated with addiction.
Gloucester police say dozens of departments in nine states have taken a page from their ANGEL program, which gives addicts a chance to make treatment rather than arrest the first response they get from police.
Addicts can come to the police station and be connected to a treatment program if they commit to getting clean. They are assigned a volunteer "angel" — sometimes a recovering addict — who works with them. They can turn in their drugs and drug paraphernalia, no questions asked.
Police Chief Leonard Campanello developed the program that started in June, and says statistics suggest it may also help reduce crime. This summer, shoplifting, breaking and entering, and larceny were down 23 percent in Gloucester compared to the same season last year.
"We are seeing real people get their lives back," Campanello said. "And if we see a reduction in crime and cost savings that is a great bonus."
The chief says the department has spent about $13,750 so far on the program, all of it from money seized in drug arrests. The department has placed more than 260 addicts into treatment since the ANGEL program began.
John Rosenthal, co-founder of Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, a nonprofit that helps police departments adopt Gloucester's program, said besides the nearly 40 departments in nine states that have adopted some aspects of the program, nearly 90 more want to get involved in some fashion.
Departments in Connecticut, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont have joined Massachusetts departments in deploying the program.
Participating departments range from the Middlebury Police Department in Vermont to the Orlando Police Department in Florida, according to the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police is also participating.
John Gill, a patrolman in Scarborough, Maine, which adopted the ANGEL program about a month ago, says making the police station a more welcoming place for addicts seeking help has been a profound change for the department.
"It was the Gloucester ANGEL project which showed us that a relatively modest-sized police agency could have a real impact," he said. "And like Gloucester, we couldn't afford to wait until the perfect solution came along.
"We put the best possible plan together and jumped off the cliff not knowing where we would land," he said. "Gloucester gave us the courage to do so."
Rosenthal says departments generally adopt some but not all of the ANGEL program. Some have adopted policies of distributing the drug-overdose antidote, naloxone, free of charge; others are using the program's network of more than 50 substance abuse treatment centers across the country. Those centers provide financial assistance to drug users who lack insurance or the resources to cover their care.
Still others have taken the approach in an altogether new direction.
In Arlington, Massachusetts, for example, the department has an in-house clinician who reaches out directly to addicts by using information gleaned from criminal investigations, community policing efforts and emergency response calls.
"We're absolutely, unequivocally thrilled by the reception of this program by law enforcement," Rosenthal said. "Police chiefs are recognizing we can't arrest our way out of this, that this is a disease and not a crime and that people suffering from this disease need treatment, not jail."