Police departments in Massachusetts are getting some extra help to deal with the opiate addiction epidemic.
In October, the Gloucester-based Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) launched an effort to place 20 part-time recovery coaches and five full-time program coordinators with police departments in Massachusetts,
The 25 personnel will be members of AmeriCorps, the Corporation for National and Community Service. PAARI will receive a federal grant of $207,000 per year for three years to finance the project. PAARI is also responsible for generating matching funds to cover project costs
The AmeriCorps members are helping build the capacity of police-based programs to expand and enhance services to address the growing opioid epidemic in their communities. They work directly with community members to help individuals who are seeking help access treatment and recovery services, prevent opioid overdose deaths, reduce crime and strengthen law enforcement and community relations.
In addition to its efforts in Massachusetts, PAARI is developing a grant proposal for the Corporation for National and Community Service to place AmeriCorps members in law enforcement agencies on a national basis.
PAARI started in 2015, as an outgrowth of The Gloucester Initiative, a program police chief Leonard Campanello debuted in June of that year.
In a major departure from standard law enforcement practices, the department offered a form of amnesty for drug addicts who would come to the police station, admit he or she needed help, and turn in any remaining drugs or paraphernalia. The department would then refer each addict into treatment, without the fear of arrest.
Campanello said he had no idea whether a program aimed at fighting opioid addiction would get “one taker or 100” when it debuted, he told the Eagle Tribune newspaper. But in its first six months, the program took in more than 300 admitted addicts, with the help of 55 volunteer “angels” who help each patient through the treatment and recovery process.
Campanello and Boston businessman John Rosenthal launched PAARI as a nonprofit agency to extend the Gloucester model to other, interested police departments. It’s now in use in more than 350 law enforcement agencies, working with local addiction treatment providers.
In its first two years, PAARI says, it has helped more than 10,000 people across the country, through its local law enforcement and treatment provider partners.
The first person helped by the program, recovering heroin addict Steve Lesnikoski, was recently hired by PAARI to work as a care advocate/outreach coordinator. Lesnikoski, 32, was living in his car in California when he read about the program online and immediately flew to Massachusetts to seek help from the Gloucester police.
“Steve’s journey . . . has really brought him full circle,” John Rosenthal, cofounder of PAARI, said in a statement announcing Lesnikoski’s hiring in September. “We’re pleased to have him working full time.”
“We don’t force anything on anyone,” Lesnikoski told the Boston Globe. “We tell them if they’re looking to change, here is how to do it. If not, here is my number. We do many things — set people up with shelters and treatment centers, refer people to counselors and other social workers,” said Lesnikoski, who has returned to school to train as an addiction counselor. “But sometimes, a lot of the time, we just talk.”
People struggling with addiction “often have nowhere to turn to . . . nowhere to go,” he told the Globe. “I’ve worked many jobs before . . . But here I’ve found something fulfilling, helping people with my own knowledge, my own story.”
Inspired by the Gloucester effort, in 2015, the Arlington, Mass. Police Department and Chief Frederick Ryan launched its own strategy, in which police officers work with a public health clinician to conduct direct outreach to the known addict community and their families, friends, and caregivers.
When dealers are arrested, police are often left with their customer lists, Chief Frederick Ryan says. Arlington Police and the embedded public health clinician use those lists to reach out to local residents who are addicted, and offer them help.
“In the past, we would not do anything with the information we learned about the customers of drug dealers, and the addicts would simply find a new dealer for their next fix,” Ryan says. “The time for inaction is over.”