Governor’s Overdose Task Force — Check Out This New Approach

Law enforcement solutions to public health problems do not work. We’ve given it a good run (40+ years) yet overdose deaths are skyrocketing across the country. Time for a new approach.

Earlier this month Governor Gina Raimondo announced her plans to form the Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force; the announcement was made at Anchor Recovery Centers in Pawtucket. (ProJo) The Governor had previously spoken on the overdose issue at a rally in the state house rotunda. Those gathered sought to publicize the incomprehensible opposition from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to the renewal of the expiring Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, which had been shielding from arrest those dialing 911 for help. (MotifRI 7.1.15) The governor spoke with sincerity and considerable feeling about the need to reintroduce the “Good Sam Act” as soon as possible in the next session. As rally organizer Rebecca McGoldrick of Protect Families First wrote in the ProJo last fall, “Incumbent Kilmartin has opposed the life-saving Good Samaritan Law, which treats drug overdoses as medical emergencies rather than crime scenes.”

In the meantime — field trip! The task force should take AG Kilmartin, Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clemens, and any and all other Rhode Island chiefs-of-police on a field trip up to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where an enlightened crew of law enforcement officials are trying something different. (Boston.com “Cops Battle Heroin by Abandoning Battle on Heroin Users”.)

My new hero is Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, a former narcotics officer no less, who is taking a new approach.

Opiate addicts in Gloucester who come to the police station — even if they’re carrying drugs — won’t be charged with a crime. They’ll get help.

Following dozens of overdoses in town and a Saturday forum on opiate addiction, Campanello wrote in a Facebook post that any addict who comes to police headquarters will get an “angel” to walk them down the road toward detox recovery.

. . . Even if someone walks in with needles and drugs, they won’t be charged, he said.

Well hallelujah we may finally be getting somewhere. Opioid overdoses killed 239 people in Rhode Island in 2014, the nation’s seventh highest rate. We can not arrest our way out of this problem. Let’s try something new.

(I am a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Drug Prohibition (LEAP) an organization of current and former law enforcement and criminal justice communities — cops, police chiefs, prosecutors, judges, prison officials, DEA agents — all speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies. BC)

 

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