Massachusetts heads in right direction with drug rehabilitation

By Devyn Giannetti

(Jimmy Emerson, DVM/ Flickr)
(Jimmy Emerson, DVM/ Flickr)

This past May, the Gloucester Police Department (GPD) held a forum regarding the opioid crisis, and how the city has many resources for help. Its Facebook post states their vow:

“Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged.”

According to the Massachusetts Health and Human Services website, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health collects overdose death data to track the progression of the opioid crisis and target services to especially hard-hit communities.

The number of opioid-related deaths in the state dramatically increased from 2011 (603 confirmed deaths) to 2014 (1,099), and has been on the rise ever since.

According to the Boston Globe’s article on opioid deaths in each Massachusetts town, Gloucester has 10.33 opioid overdoses per every 100,000 people. Aquinnah has the worst rate of 251.89 per every 100,000.

There are multiple factors that are likely to have contributed to this current drug abuse problem, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Reasons include the immense increase in the number of prescriptions written, an increase in social acceptability for using medications for multiple purposes and intense marketing by pharmaceutical companies. The combination of these factors has created the “environmental availability” of prescription medications and opioid analgesics.

Massachusetts has become very aware of this drug problem, and police departments such as Gloucester’s are working to get drug addicts off the streets and into rehabilitation facilities.

The process is actually quite simple. According to the GPD’s website, if an addict comes in and asks for help, an officer will take them to Addison Gilbert Hospital, where they will then be paired with a volunteer “angel” who will help them through the process. GPD has partnered with more than a dozen treatment centers to make sure patients receive the care they deserve right away.

GPD wants to make sure addicts feel safe coming to the police for help. Stated in bold font, the website emphasizes:

“You will not be arrested. You will not be charged with a crime. You will not be jailed.”

Since June, 137 people have turned themselves in to the GPD seeking drug rehabilitation services, according to MSNBC (1:24).

GPD and various other cities in Massachusetts are taking the right strides to conquering the opioid abuse problem.

Treating drug addiction like it is a crime really isn’t helping anyone. If you want to look at it from a money standpoint, rehabilitation over incarceration can save from $4,000 to $20,000, according to a report published by the Justice Policy Institute. Putting someone in jail for doing or possessing drugs costs about five times as much as allowing an addict to go to treatment for their problem.

Treatment and alternatives to incarceration can also be more effective than putting someone in prison or even doing rehabilitation while being incarcerated. Non-prison, therapeutic treatment generated $8.87 of benefit for every dollar spent, while therapeutic treatment in prison only yields $1.91 for every dollar spent, the study also states (page six).

Looking at this issue from another perspective, treatment programs can be community builders, helping people who are facing severe challenges become productive parts of their families and neighborhoods. Once someone has drug possession on their record, the likelihood of getting a job tanks, versus getting clean through rehabilitation, which leaves nothing on the record and allows ample job opportunities.

Addicts also need strong support systems in order to succeed. The GPD’s “angel” program allows drug addicts to be held accountable by people really striving for them to be successful in their work to get clean. Knowing they have someone by their side in one of the most sensitive, difficult times of their lives allows them to hold themselves accountable. In prison, it’s almost as if there is no hope for you to get better, triggering an endless cycle of addiction, prison time, release, addiction and more prison time.

Gloucester has realized that rehabilitation will garner much stronger results in the fight against opioid addiction than incarceration ever would, and other states should be taking note and following the lead to get more drug addicts off the streets. It’s obvious addicts want help, and it took knowing that they wouldn’t get in trouble with the law for them to get it.

Addiction is not a choice, but getting help is. Those willing to get help for their problem should be rewarded for being strong enough to search for outside resources instead of punished for a problem that would usually send them to jail.

Devyn Giannetti is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]