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Methuen police launch initiative to offer drug addicts helping hand

A new law enforcement program to be launched in Methuen will send trained outreach coordinators door-to-door with police officers to the homes of drug users and their loved ones, offering personalized help to combat addiction, officials said.

The Methuen Outreach Initiative, inspired by similar programs in Gloucester and Arlington, aims to better equip local police to fight addiction instead of just arresting drug offenders, police said.

"It's not about arresting you and getting you into court, it's about getting you into treatment," Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said in a phone interview.

The department plans to hire two outreach coordinators who will work to link drug users with detox and treatment centers, identify and educate addicts, as well as their friends and family, and collaborate with other programs relating to education, employment, medical care, and housing to ensure that addicts have the resources they need to successfully recover, according to a statement from Methuen police.

"We believe these two [outreach coordinators], because they come from a substance abuse background, that they will do a much better job with it than we can as cops," Solomon said.

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Methuen police officers were equipped with Narcan last year to treat victims of opiate overdoses, and since then, they have administered the life-saving treatment more than a hundred times. When police arrest dealers, they often confiscate their customer lists. As a result, authorities are becoming more aware of the wide spectrum of people whose lives are affected by the opioid crisis, from relatives to caregivers.

"The city of Methuen prides itself on being proactive, especially on difficult and controversial issues like school violence, domestic violence, [and] addiction, and we are very proud to launch the Methuen Outreach Initiative," Mayor Stephen Zanni said in the police statement. "By working together, we can get people suffering from addiction into treatment so that they can retake their lives."

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Methuen police have partnered with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, a nonprofit established by Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, which encourages authorities to connect addicts with the guidance and resources they need to recover, officials said in the statement.

Campanello also created Gloucester's ANGEL Initiative, a program that allows addicts to turn over drugs and paraphernelia to authorities without the threat of arrest and places the addict in a treatment center.

The ANGEL Initiative, which launched June 1, has so far been met with overwhelming success, Campanello said.

"We've put 57 in treatment in 47 days," Campanello said in a phone interview. "No criminal charges. That's 57 people on the street that are not doing heroin in a month and a half."

The Methuen Outreach Initiative is part of a handful of efforts police have made to fight the national opioid epidemic. Measures include a drug turn-in kiosk installed in the department station lobby for unwanted and expired prescription narcotics, which has taken more than 500 pounds of medication off the streets, police said in the statement.

The number of estimated deaths from opiates has been steadily increasing each year, according to a report ordered by Governor Charlie Baker last month. Opiates led to an estimated 1,009 deaths in Massachusetts last year.

The report cites key strategies to fight the opioid crisis, including making educational resources and treatment more accessible and reducing the stigma associated with drug addiction.

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"We are simply not arresting our way out of this issue," Campanello said. "It's an issue of disease. Addiction is a disease. It's not a crime. We have to take a different approach."


Rachel Riley can be reached at rachel.riley@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @rachel_m_riley.