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Open Society Foundations

Back in June 2015, Gloucester, Massachusetts, police chief Leonard Campanello announced that his officers would no longer arrest drug users who approached them seeking help.

Photo by nathanmac87/Flickr.


Instead, the department announced they would refer the drug users to treatment, and front the cost.

Gloucester has been struggling to combat a big heroin problem.

Photo by richiec/Flickr.

Between January and March 2015, the community experienced four overdose deathsmore than in all of 2014.

"It's a provocative idea to put out there," Chief Campanello told Upworthy, "But we knew we had to do something different."

Needless to say, there were many questions about whether Campanello's experiment would actually work.

How much money would it cost? Would it actually reduce the number of overdose deaths? Would drug users actually trust the police, knowing that admitting to possession could technically get them arrested at any time?

"I had a lot of skepticism," Chief Campanello said. "I didn't know if we were going to get one person or a thousand people."

After two months, the early results are in, and they look promising. Very promising.

According to Campanello, since June 1, an impressive number of addicted persons have made use of the program:

"We've had 116 people placed in treatment," Campanello explained. "No criminal charges. All placed on the same day."

In order to keep costs down, the police department managed to bargain down the cost of a life-saving detox drug from local pharmacies. Largely as a result, the department estimates that the cost of the program so far is less than $5,000.

Or, as Campanello put it in a recent Facebook post, "under $5,000.00 ... for 100 lives."

"We've built partnerships with treatment centers, health plans, health providers, other law enforcement, and certain the public, which has overwhelmingly supported this approach," he told Upworthy.

As a result of the positive early signs, Campanello and his team are working hard to take the program nationwide.

As with any new program, there are still a few kinks to work out.

Even after the initiative took effect in June, the epidemic of overdose deaths in Gloucester hasn't completely subsided. And given the outside-the-box nature of the program, there is still a lot of legal red tape to work through.

But progress has to start somewhere.

Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images.

And 100 people who would otherwise be sitting in jail now have a chance to repair their lives.

"It's extremely important for a police department to treat all people with respect," Campanello said. "Law enforcement doesn't exist to judge people."

With nonviolent drug users popping up in prison at alarming rates, it's great to see evidence that when you treat addicted persons like people instead of criminals, good things can happen.

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