The unique approach to combating the opioid epidemic started in Gloucester, Ma., has evolved into a national program called Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), a partnership of 390 police departments that has helped 12,000 people get treatment.
In 2015, Leonard Campanello, the exasperated police chief in the fishing town of Gloucester, Ma., announced that anyone who showed up at the police station and asked for help overcoming an opiate addiction would get treatment without fear of arrest, no matter where they lived or whether they had insurance. In the program’s first year, 376 people took the chief up on his offer. The New England Journal of Medicine said almost 95 percent of addicts got a direct referral to treatment, Politico reports. Three years later, the unique approach to combating the opioid epidemic has evolved into a national program called Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), a partnership of 390 police departments that has helped 12,000 people get treatment. Gloucester opened its police station as a safe space for the addicted. Others follow a variation created in the Boston suburb of Arlington in which officers and addiction counselors reach out to recent overdose victims instead of waiting for addicts to come to them.
While PAARI is getting attention from cities with much larger populations and significantly more overdoses. The biggest partner is Macomb County, Mi., made up of 27 Detroit suburbs with a population of 860,000 and a rate of opioid overdose deaths more than twice the national average. Phoenix started a program in one police station. Salt Lake City launched a program across from its homeless shelter. In Boston, police officers in some neighborhoods give out cards with the names of treatment advocates PAARI has hired through AmeriCorps. “Who would have thought that the access to treatment for somebody in opiate addiction would be through the lobby of a police station?” says Arlington police chief Frederick Ryan, PAARI’s co-chair. “I hope that at some point we put ourselves out of business, and health care and public health take the ball.”