Gloucester, Massachusetts, saw four heroin overdoses in 24 hours
Overdoses may be connected to "bad batch" of heroin
Police chief calls for reform in approach to addiction
A Massachusetts police chief took to Facebook on Sunday with an impassioned plea to addicts after his town saw four overdoses in the span of 24 hours.
Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello wrote a post urging addicts to get help.
“Your life is more meaningful than your death,” he wrote. “Don’t be ashamed of your illness. We are not ashamed of you, It’s time…come and get the help.”
In Gloucester, the police can actually be “the help” addicts seek. The city is the home of a revolutionary program called the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative that connects addicts with rehabilitation centers. As CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported in a story about the program last month, addicts can simply walk into the police department and request help. An “angel” is then assigned to the addict to walk him or her through the process of entering rehab.
So far, the initiative, which was founded in the spring of 2015, has helped hundreds enter rehab programs and has expanded to towns in 17 states, according to the program’s website.
The spike in overdoses over the weekend seemed to be related to a bad batch of heroin spreading across Massachusetts, according to Gloucester police. According to Gloucester police spokesman John Guilfoil, all four individuals who overdosed survived due to Narcan, a lifesaving medicine that can stop overdoses in progress. Guilfoil also noted that no one has died in Gloucester so far this year due to an overdose; in 2015, the city had already seen a death by this early point in the year.
Gloucester is the latest city to be hit by this particular strain of heroin, referred to by some as “Hollywood” heroin because of its identifying logo. Eight people died over the span of a week earlier this month due to this batch, according to Massachusetts State Police. An additional 30 overdoses occurred in the Boston suburb of Brockton over three days, according to Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter.
Campanello told CNN that incidents like this only drive home the need for strong action at the state and federal level against heroin addiction. He said a revised “good Samaritan” law is needed. Campanello said this law, which would protect addicts who seek help from police who otherwise could be prosecuted, must be passed “immediately” by the Massachusetts Legislature. He took aim at pharmaceutical companies that produce the prescription painkillers that can lead to further opioid dependence.
“How can they sit back when they contribute largely to this problem?” Campanello said of the companies.
“It’s akin to treason to the country,” he added.
Campanello said that local, state, and federal authorities were looking into this particular type of heroin, but that incidents like this only drive home the urgency of the larger problem of heroin addiction.
“There is no good heroin,” he said. “This can strike anywhere at any time.”