More than 100 drug-addicted people in Gloucester have found their way to treatment through the local police force, which on June 1 began a program that has officers seeking to help, rather than arrest, opioid users.
Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello said Friday that his department has helped 109 people get into treatment. Known as the Angel initiative, the program allows people to come to the police station, surrender their drugs, and ask for help.
The department assigns one of its about 40 volunteers — or “angels” — to guide participants into detox facilities. No one has been turned away, he said.
“The notion was . . . we’re no longer going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Campanello said. “The support we have received from just everyone really is gratifying.”
Gloucester’s novel program comes as Massachusetts continues to grapple with an opioid crisis that killed more than 300 people in the first three months of this year.
State health officials are in the process of searching for a director of addiction and recovery policy, said Rhonda Mann, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
Mann said the position should be filled by the fall, and the individual will “live, breathe, and own” how to fight the opioid crisis.
In addition, state officials will be looking at local efforts to battle addiction, including in Gloucester, where Mann described the Angel program as “incredible.”
“We are very supportive of what cities and towns are trying to do in their areas to make a dent in this problem,” Mann said. “It’s great information on what’s working, what solutions are.”
It’s not just Massachusetts that is welcoming the program, said John Rosenthal, the cofounder and chair of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which helps fund Gloucester’s efforts.
As of this week, Rosenthal’s nonprofit, which he founded alongside Campanello, partnered with Illinois’s Dixon Police Department and Lee County Sheriff’s Department to implement Angel-like programs.
That comes after the Arlington, Methuen, and Andover police departments have launched similar programs in Massachusetts, Rosenthal said.
“I believe that there would be more people suffering from opioid addiction that are dead if not for the Gloucester initiative,” Rosenthal said.
He hopes the creation of similar programs will save more lives.
Gloucester’s program already has ties with about 40 treatment centers in 15 states.
Sometimes addicts can go to facilities in Massachusetts, others can be sent as far as California or Tennessee. So far, Gloucester’s 109 have gone to 20 different centers in six states.
“This program blew up the whole notion [that] there are no beds,” Rosenthal said. “There are a lot of beds around. The question is: Can you afford it?”
In Gloucester, the answer is yes, largely because treatment providers have stepped up, said Rosenthal, who also collects donations for his group.
Some treatment facilities offer “scholarships” to cover patients’ care costs, Rosenthal said. The Gloucester police have also used seized drug money — under $5,000 — to cover expenses such as patients’ transportation to treatment, Campanello noted.
Many of the participants are homeless, Gloucester police said. Officials say about 40 percent are from Gloucester and Cape Ann, and 16 percent have come from outside Massachusetts.
Campanello was uncertain when the program first launched whether people would willingly seek help. But he said he is now encouraged by the trust his department has built with the community.
He said it is still early to tell how recovery is going for those in treatment.
“Many are doing very well,” he said, but he has seen a few relapses.
“That’s part of the illness,” he said. “We’ll help you again.”
He views someone knowing where to get help, rather than starting to use for six months, a success.
Rosenthal hopes that a year from now, hundreds of treatment centers and police departments will partner with his group.
“Together, we’ll solve this problem,” he said.