The Gloucester Police Department’s treatment-first approach to combating the opioid epidemic has gotten another endorsement — this one from Gov. Charlie Baker.
Baker, speaking outside an event at Harvard Medical School Monday, said he believes Gloucester’s so-called angel program, now in its second week, is “an idea worth trying.”
After joining Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders in a talk at the International Conference on Opioids, Baker acknowledged that there is “no silver bullet” when it comes to addressing the plague of opioid abuse.
“I think the fact that the police chief up in Gloucester is trying something different is a good thing, and I’ll be interested to see how it works,” Baker said, according to the State House News Service.
“Whatever we can do to help decriminalize the treatment of addictions and to create access to clinical pathways, and I see a few people nodding their heads so hopefully that gives you enough to sort of chew on,” Sudders told the medical professionals gathered for the conference.
Under the Gloucester program, addicts who turn over their drugs to police are not arrested but are paired with a volunteer “angel” who helps guide them through entry into a treatment program.
The endorsement from Baker follows earlier backing for the program police Chief Leonard Campanello has drawn at the local, state and federal levels, including from U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. Campanello had met with the local federal lawmakers and others — including Michael Botticelli, head of the Executive Office on Drug Control Policy — to explain the program and lobby for the chance to use federal drug forfeiture money to support it.
“Obviously, I’m extremely encouraged by his comments,” Campanello said Monday when told of the governor’s expression of support. “And I believe Gov. Baker to be true to his word about making opiate addition a priority in his administration.”
Police spokesman John Guilfoil said Monday that eight people had thus far come to the station seeking help under the program, and that all; eight had been placed in treatment programs. The program began June 1.
The first four addicts who entered the program last week did not turn over any drugs or paraphernalia, Guilfoil said. The fifth person, who went to the station last Thursday night, handed over some drugs. Campanello said Monday that police have taken in an undefined quantity of heroin and assorted paraphernalia from “more than one” of the participants.
“The thing to remember,” Campanello said, “is that our focus is to get the addict into treatment. Getting drugs off the street is very important, but our premise is that we have attacked the supply chain for years, and it hasn’t really succeeded.”
While Campanello has emphasized that the project is a Gloucester program, neither he nor Guilfoil would confirm whether all of the participants are city residents.
Guilfoil noted Monday that while the Police Department’s outreach for the program is focused on Gloucester, legal counselors have advised that the program cannot be limited to the city.
“Police have a duty to serve the public,” Guilfoil said. “Just as someone who showed up with a baby or with an injury can’t be denied police help, so, too, we can’t legally deny service to someone who presents themselves for this program.”
Moulton and other officials have spoken about the Gloucester program serving as a model for other communities. But, while offering his support for it, Baker hedged on that question.
“I’m not a big believer in mandates,” he said.