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Taking the opioid crisis to the boardroom

Gloucester police chief urges dialogue with pharmaceutical executives

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello (center), talked with Adelard Charron, a former addict now in recovery, in June.

Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe

Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello (center) talked with Adelard Charron, a former addict now in recovery, in June.

Gloucester police, taking an unconventional approach to fighting the state’s opioid epidemic, are imploring people to contact chief executives at five pharmaceutical companies and ask what they’re doing to curb the drug scourge.

In a Facebook post this week that was shared more than 500 times, Police Chief Leonard Campanello listed names and contact information for the leaders at Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly and Co., and
Merck & Co.

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The feisty post exhorted the department’s nearly 10,000 followers to reach out directly to the corporate chiefs to start a conversation about drug abuse prevention.

“Now . . . don’t get mad,” Campanello wrote. “Just politely ask them what they are doing to address the opioid epidemic in the United States, and if they realize that the latest data shows almost 80 percent of addicted persons start with a legally prescribed drug that they make.”

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Campanello said he believes that the executives could play a key role in finding a solution to the epidemic, but they “might need a little push” in the form of phone calls and e-mails.

“Gotta go make some calls,” the chief wrote.

Several of the companies spotlighted by Campanello responded that they had already taken steps to help prevent prescription drug abuse.

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A spokeswoman from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, a trade group representing US pharmaceutical companies, said the industry is “dedicated to supporting a range of policy approaches . . . and expanding and improving awareness, education, and training related to prescription drug abuse.”

Priscilla VanderVeer acknowledged that the improper use of prescription drugs is a public health crisis.

“Helping to ensure the appropriate use of these medicines while also making sure patients with legitimate medical needs have access to their medicines is a key priority for the innovative biopharmaceu industry,” she said in a statement.

While the phone numbers listed for the offices of the chief executives worked, messages to some of the e-mails shared on the Facebook post bounced back when a Globe reporter wrote to them.

One of the companies, Abbot Laboratories, said in a statement that the company “doesn’t sell pharmaceuticals in the United States.” A spokesman for a second company, Pfizer, directed an inquiry about the chief’s post to PhRMA.

Amy Jo Meyer, a spokeswoman from Johnson & Johnson, did not directly address Campanello’s post, but said the company also supports the need to eliminate the abuse of potent painkillers.

“The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson have developed educational programs aimed at increasing awareness in patients and health care professionals alike,” she said in a statement.

The remaining companies did not return requests for comment.

Campanello would not speak further about the department’s Facebook post.

John Guilfoil, a spokesman for Gloucester police, said the department is letting the information shared online “speak for itself.”

“[The chief] wasn’t making an accusation or encouraging people to get angry. He is taking aim at the industry as a whole, and encouraging people to wonder what this industry is going to do about this epidemic,” Guilfoil said. “He is speaking collectively about the industry. He is casting a wide net.”

This isn’t the first time Gloucester police have used innovative methods in their fight against addiction. In June, the department launched the Angel initiative to help addicts find adequate treatment. The program allows addicts to come to the police station, hand over their drugs, and then ask for placement in a detox facility — without being put behind bars for drug possession.

Like the department’s latest push, that plan started with a simple — but sharply focused — Facebook message.

As of August, Gloucester police say they have helped more than 100 people struggling with addiction through the program. Arlington, Methuen, and Andover police have launched similar programs since.

Wednesday’s Facebook message about the pharmaceutical industry drew high praise from some commenters, who pledged to reach out to the companies.

“I seriously love this police chief. He is saving lives everyday,” one person wrote.

Gotta go make some calls.....Top 5 Pharmaceutical CEO Salaries:5. Eli Lilly - John Lechleiter $14.48...

Posted by Gloucester Police Department (Official) on�Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.
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