Changing Our Country One Addict at a Time

By Mary Maston, Guest Columnist

It’s obvious that our current ways of dealing with addiction aren’t working. They have never worked. The entire process of making drugs illegal and incarcerating those who use, possess, and sell them has been an epic fail in every way imaginable.

The “War on Drugs” – a phrase coined by President Nixon -- has been raging for almost 45 years, longer than I have been alive. How many trillions of our tax dollars have been spent in that time and where has it gotten us?

According to the officials, the problem of addiction is worse now than it’s ever been, despite throwing people in jail left and right. Making things even worse, legitimate chronic pain patients are being lumped together with addicts and drug abusers -- making opioid pain medication harder and harder to get.

We haven’t solved anything, and we never will if this is the path we continue to take.

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -- Albert Einstein

It’s time that we start thinking outside the box. We need a different approach and the police chief of Gloucester, Massachusetts may have found one.

Chief Leonard Campanello has worked in law enforcement for 25 years. In that time, I’m sure he’s seen just about every scenario imaginable and then some. Perhaps he’s grown tired of seeing the same people in and out of his jail repeatedly. Or perhaps he just has a bigger heart than most, and the desire to contribute to a real solution. That’s what I choose to believe.

After dealing with addicts repeatedly over the years, Campanello has decided to change the way he does things and tackle the issue from a totally different angle.

Campanello recently announced that anyone who walks into his police station and asks for help with addiction, and surrenders any drugs and paraphernalia they have, will not be arrested. Instead he/she will be put into a detox and rehab program, funded by the money the police department has collected from drug raids.

You read that correctly: Anyone who asks for help will receive it without judgement, persecution, fines, or jail time. It’s called the Gloucester Initiative.

It’s a bold move. It’s never been attempted before. Many may say it’s crazy, that it will never work. It goes against everything we’ve heard about addiction.

Get this though: it is working.

It’s an absolutely brilliant concept and it’s already changing lives in the short time since it’s been started. It’s also gaining national attention. There are many organizations that are starting to come on board, and because of that, the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative  was born.

police chief leonard campanello

police chief leonard campanello

So far over two dozen people have entered the program. While that doesn’t seem like many in the grand scheme of things, it’s a start. The drugs those people had are off the streets, and they are getting help when they would otherwise be using and selling. What if 28 drug addicts were no longer on YOUR streets and in YOUR community? Would you feel a little bit safer, maybe a little less cynical? Everyone has to start somewhere.

This proves that there are people who are addicted and who truly want help, but haven’t been able to get it for any number of reasons. Maybe they can’t afford it – rehab facilities aren’t cheap. Maybe they don’t have insurance or if they do, it doesn’t cover extended treatment.

If they are using illegal drugs but haven’t been caught yet, maybe they are afraid of going to jail for the first time. Maybe they enjoyed being an addict for a long time, but don’t want to be one anymore and don’t know how to stop.

Think about it for a moment. This could be a huge game changer for chronic pain patients, especially if this initiative takes off nationally like I’m hoping it will.

Right now, everyone is so quick to label anyone that uses pain medication for any reason as an addict. What if addicts weren’t abusing anymore? Perhaps that would equate to better treatment for us, without the stigma of being judged so harshly because we actually need medications to function; not because we want to get high, but because we want to live somewhat productive lives and medication is the only thing that helps us.

Think about how much better your life would be if medical professionals got back to actually treating patients with debilitating diseases and conditions – respectfully – instead of focusing on policing everyone that walks through their doors and denying medical care.

I’m not naïve enough to think that this is going to completely solve everything. Not everyone wants help and there are some genuinely bad people in this world, but I’m holding onto hope that this can potentially make a positive difference in the lives of millions – the ones that do want help.

Putting people in jail doesn’t accomplish that, and there are people out there that would stop using drugs if given the opportunity to do it in the right environment.

Just ask those that have come forward. Out of all of the things I’ve read over the years on the subject of the war on drugs, this is the only thing I’ve come across that has the potential to actually change things for the better and make an impact.

That’s why I fully support this cause. I would be insane not to.

Mary Maston suffers from a rare congenital kidney disease called Medullary Sponge Kidney (MSK), along with Renal Tubular Acidosis (RTA) and chronic cystitis. She is an advocate for MSK and other chronic pain patients, and helps administer a Facebook support group for MSK patients.

Mary has contributed articles to various online media, including Kidney Stoners, and is an affiliate member of PROMPT (Professionals for Rational Opioid Monitoring & Pharmaco-Therapy).

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.