‘The Police Aren’t Just Getting You In Trouble. They Actually Care.’

In 2015, police in towns across eastern Massachusetts began to embrace a new way to respond to a public health crisis with a rapidly escalating death toll. That spring, the exasperated police chief in the fishing town of Gloucester, Mass., announced that anyone who showed up at the police station and asked for help overcoming an opiate addiction would get it, without fear of arrest, no matter where they lived or whether they had insurance. Police, he said, would get them into treatment.

In the Gloucester program’s first year, 376 people took the chief up on his offer. The New England Journal of Medicine took notice: Almost 95 percent of addicts got a direct referral to treatment—compared to a 63 percent referral rate for a treatment-placement program at Boston Medical Center. “Factors that enabled referrals included the motivation of participants to enter treatment, as evidenced by their coming to the police station,” the researchers wrote, as well as “the fact that officers search for placements 24 hours a day.”

Three years later, the unique approach to combating the opioid epidemic has evolved into a national program called Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI, a partnership of 390 police departments that has helped 12,000 people get into drug treatment. Some members, like Gloucester, have opened their police stations as safe spaces for the addicted. Others, like Plymouth, follow a variation created in Arlington, Mass., a Boston suburb, in which officers and addiction counselors reach out to recent overdose victims instead of waiting for addicts to come to them.

Erick Trickey/Politico