Cops Offer Drug War Amnesty in Massachusetts Town

Heroin addicts directed to treatment, not jails and courtrooms.


Meet your modern-day Andy Griffith, sort of. Kind of.
Gloucester PD

Some police and some municipal government officials have a particular way of looking at the homeless and how to treat them. They believe that any sort of official kindness extended to the homeless—accommodating panhandlers, building shelters, letting them sleep outdoors—only encourages it. If cities are nice to homeless people, they will flock to the city in swarms, and then all sorts of crime and fraud will follow.

I've seen that logic extend to the drug war. When I've talked to police about maybe not throwing users in jail if they aren't committing any other crimes, what I've heard back is that, even if they agree that the drug war is a failure, they have to keep enforcing it as long as their neighbors enforce it. Otherwise, their city will be known as the place to go and freely get wasted, and all the druggies will start congregating there, again resulting in more community crimes and problems.

The police in Gloucester, Massachusetts, have decided on an alternate route. They're not going to just accommodate illegal drug use. But what they are going to do is allow heroin addicts who want help to turn themselves into the police to be directed to rehab, rather than a jail cell. The Associated Press story even opens with an Andy Griffith Show analogue of a woman sleeping it off in a holding cell. Though, given that this is real life and not a nostalgic television comedy, it also involved a black eye and a trip to the emergency room. Here's how it all works:

Under a policy launched in June, heroin and opioid addicts who voluntarily turn themselves in at the station are fast-tracked into treatment services through a team of police officers, volunteers and trained clinicians.

They aren't charged with a crime, and much of their treatment cost is covered through public and private insurance, grants by service providers and by police using money seized from drug dealers.

They can even hand over drugs and drug paraphernalia to police, no questions asked.

So far, they've had 109 addicts come in for the program, 16 percent of which were from out of state. A nonprofit has been created to help support the program and to see if can be exported to other communities.

Terrence McCoy at the Washington Post interviewed Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello to describe how the whole process came about, a result of a spontaneous offer for help Campanello put out on Facebook after a heroin overdose death in his community. His statement that he would offer assistance rather than handcuffs was quickly embraced and spread through the community. He bluntly told McCoy, "The drug war is over, and we lost. There is no way we can arrest ourselves out of this." He noted that the ultimate impact of a 50-year drug war is that heroin is now cheaper than it used to be. It's also in greater demand because of the government's crackdown on Oxycontin access in perpetuating the drug war.

Campanello even convinced pharmacy CVS to reduce the price of Nasal Narcan, a drug that that helps reverse overdoses, from $140 to $20. Then the police started buying it and handing it out to addicts who didn't have insurance.

The local lead prosecutor had to be a downer and warned the Associated Press that the police legally couldn't promise addicts they wouldn't be charged with crimes. That may sound like a dire warning, but given how dependent prosecutors are on the cooperation of police to put anybody away at all, it lacks teeth. 

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  1. But I bet the SWATters have more than one bullet.

    1. I prefer the term “SWATzi”, But viva la difference!

      1. I lean something new and oick up useful habits every day. Thanks!

      2. Would that make the genocidal extermination of the Branch Davidians in Waco a SWATzi Party?

  2. They believe that any sort of official kindness extended to the homeless?accommodating panhandlers, building shelters, letting them sleep outdoors?only encourages it.

    Is there any reason to doubt this?

    1. With the number of homeless hotels growing, Ima say no.

    2. We’ve got an interesting situation here in Seattle.

      Over the last few years, almost every free “wild” space in the city is now filled with tent encampments. And I mean they’re everywhere. Every…where.

      I’m not sure what’s happened here. There was a controversy here over a “tent city” which has been a political football for a few years. The latest round is what appears to be urban yuppies protesting the appearance of a tent city for the homeless while pearl-clutching over the loss of a beloved tree. I’m not making this up.

      What I can’t figure out is, are there really this many more homeless people, or were they attracted here by policies that encouraged it?

      1. This article is more biting than any satire of Seattleites could hope to be:

        Standing in the vacant lot on Monday, Mary Fleck lamented the demise of the tree, cut down by the city several days ago.

        “Dear Street Tree, you thought you were so tough. Withstanding cars and trucks pounding by your roots. We climbed the bus but didn’t see your tenderness. We were wrong about you. That was our Street Tree,” she said.

        Now I’m wondering what a show by Mike Judge set in Seattle would be like.

        Of the roughly 20 people who made public comments at the meeting, all opposed putting a tent city there. While several speakers said they were open to hosting a homeless encampment elsewhere in Ballard, most said they felt the selection process lacked public input and transparency.

        “We, like, totally want to be compassionate and all and provide for the homeless, just not in a manner that requires us to see or deal with them in any way.”

        1. Seattle politics has become a parody of itself.

      2. As to your question, Paul, I’ve only been in Seattle about five years, but I have noticed the homeless problem getting markedly worse even in that short time frame. It’s not just the tent cities; you can’t even walk down Broadway on Cap Hill without having to step over people sleeping on the sidewalk or passed out on some building’s doorstep.

        I’m not sure what policies in particular would attract them here, I guess I’m not much of a follower of local politics. Though I have noticed everyone around here is just in love with this push for rent control, and will no doubt be utterly perplexed in a few years when the homeless problem is greatly exacerbated for *no apparent reason*…

        1. I’m looking for it now, but there was a task force whitepaper produced back in… I want to say 2008 or so, where it claimed homelessness would be virtually gone in Seattle buy 2013. I’m digging for it but I can’t find it.

      3. Look. We had a 10 year plan to end homelessness. A 10 year plan. And it ended in 2014. So I don’t know what you’re talking about since it is now 2015.

  3. much of their treatment cost is covered through public and private insurance, grants by service providers and by police using money seized from drug dealers.

    Private insurance? You mean, the junkies’ mandatory Obamacare?

    Anyway, I’ll bet the amount of police money used is small compared to that seized and spent on “police equipment”.

    1. much of their treatment cost is covered through public and private insurance,

      Nice euphemism there: “Public insurance” being welfare.

      More accurate to say “much of their treatment cost is covered by tax-payer funded welfare or private insurance”. Which leads to the question: how much of each?

      Better than prison, I guess, but we still have to wrap it in lies and misdirection.

  4. A nonprofit has been created to help support the program and to see if can be exported to other communities.

    Ah, now there is a non-profit worthy of support.

  5. Okay, but let’s cut to the real issue here: is that Gloucester as in “Gloster” or “Glowchester”?

    1. Glosstah

      1. Massholes

        1. Yah, shure, dontcha know.

    2. E-mare-jon-cy! Every body off street.

  6. My first thought – if drug offenders are being shunted into drug rehab programs rather than prisons, you might ought to check who owns the rehab centers before you applaud too hard. I’m betting if you compare the names of the investors in the drug rehab business and the names of local elected officials and their big campaign contributors you’re going to see something interesting.

    1. The question is, if people aren’t being shuffled off to prison should that matter?

      Regardless of what happens someone is going to make money.

      1. If the rehab is mandatory there’s no difference between rehab and prison.

        1. I’m pretty sure rehab doesn’t go on for 15 years and completely destroy your job opportunities.

        2. If the rehab is mandatory there’s no difference between rehab and prison.

          Am I more likely to get sodomized and/or shivved in a rehab center or in a prison?

          1. yes

    2. It’s a bit of a devil’s bargain, though. We’re better off a country run by crony capitalists than a country run by inflexible ideologues if those ideologues are anti-liberty. In this case the ideologues are crusading prohibitionists. Almost anything is preferable to that.

      1. Crony capitalists are anti-liberty. See the taxi cartels.

        1. Granted, but at least you still have taxis. Not the optimal outcome, but tolerable. A militantly anti-taxi government would ensure no taxis, not even the politically subsidized sort, plus imprisoning or shooting anyone caught providing or accepting taxi services.

          1. Is…is that even a thing?

            1. Imprisoning or shooting people caught providing or accepting services that the Total State disapproves of? Yeah, pretty sure that’s a thing.

            2. Well, no, but I’m trying to keep it in the purview of cronyism vs. prohibition.

              Actually I’m willing to bet some unholy confluence of emission-restriction + rideshare prohibition would bring about anti-taxi legislation. Use public transit! Or else.

      2. Right, like China. Sometimes you have to make a deal.

    3. Back in the day, only sickies wanted opiates, and only when other drugs were made scarce. Dr. Robert S DeRopp’s “Drugs and the Mind” was a sort of hepcat survival manual, and revealed that normal people do not even like heroin when administered in double-blind tests–whereas the insane and persons lacking certain enzymes have a weakness for it. This market in addictive analgesics is so much like taxation it’s not funny–especially when it can afford to buy politicians, archbishops and field marshals. DeRopp published largely to correct errors in the German book Phantastica, published during the dry twenties. Legalizing weed and psychedelics, fine. But I would rather see opiates decriminalized and the political state not enforce those contracts just as the American colonies refused to enforce indentureship agreements. As a medical problem they are bad enough. As a political problem opiates too often lead to genuine war.

  7. Hampsterdam!

    1. Wicked pissah!

  8. Positive development to the extent bureaucrats are thinking outside their little boxes.

    1. Historically, that’s just as often a bad thing as good.

  9. If New Jersey Democrat Chris Christie becomes president, the town of Glawstah is going to be in for a rude awakening as federales swarm in to pick up any drug war slack.

    1. Seems like Gloucester

      [dons Fist’s sunglasses]

      went one toke over the line.

  10. “The drug war is over, and we lost. There is no way we can arrest ourselves out of this.” He noted that the ultimate impact of a 50-year drug war is that heroin is now cheaper than it used to be. It’s also in greater demand because of the government’s crackdown on Oxycontin access in perpetuating the drug war.

    True True True True True.

    1. I question whether a victory of freedom over coercion is a defeat for “us.” Who is this “we” that is so excited about wars, anyway, paleface?

  11. Prior to the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (the beginning of the federal war on drugs) heroin and cocaine addiction was going down and there was no criminal justice problem associated with the use of those drugs which were perfectly legal to buy. Further, a public health doctor from Pensacola, Florida, in 1920, wrote a book about how the Harrison Narcotics Act affected the addicted population. He claimed that before the act the addicts came and got their drug and went to work and took care of the familial and social obligations. After the act they had to put there energies into obtaining their now illegal drugs.

    Addiction is not good, but mostly it’s not harmful to other people and their property when the drugs are legal. The war on drugs has caused almost all of the problems we associate with the illegal drugs, including violence. Alcohol is actually the most violence-causing drug merely from it’s use. And if prohibition of drugs worked, then the Great Experiment of alcohol prohibition would have worked and the U.S. would be a “dry” nation now.

    1. Addiction is atrophy of natural analgesic production. There is no such thing as “cocaine addiction” other than as a sort of hypnotic reaction to brainwashing and propaganda. If you lock a smack junkie in a cell, the poor wretch is reduced to miserable duress within 36 hours. Jailed cokies do not drool, drip, tremble, have cramps, bristle goosebumps, yawn incessantly or exhibit any of the other classical symptoms of opiate dependency. Wagers anyone? I suspect the expression has roots in ignorant superstition much like the February 8, 1914 NYT article on bulletproof “cocaine negroes” menacing the white race on behalf of the Harrison Act. In South America the stuff is known to be as dangerous as gallstones, hence less dangerous than excise, alcohol or tobacco, and Mark Twain was not a bit frightened by it. Expensive, yes, poisonous, also, but not addictive unless we change the meaning of “addictive” to include Twinkies, Cheetos and Coca-Cola.

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