About 95 percent of individuals who came to the Gloucester Police Department in Massachusetts for help getting addiction treatment were placed in detoxification or substance-use treatment programs during the first year of a widely publicized initiative aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, according to a new report by Boston University researchers.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report notes that the “high direct-referral rate” by Gloucester police exceeds that of hospital-based initiatives designed to provide immediate access to detoxification and treatment.
“Despite the many barriers, including previous arrests, that may prevent persons with an opioid-use disorder from engaging with police, 376 people sought help in the first year of this program,” according to the report.
Researchers credited a number of factors for the program’s success, including the motivation of participants to enter treatment, work by police to find placements and establish a relationship with a local treatment center, and state-mandated insurance covering drug detoxification.
The police department began the initiative in June 2015. Dubbed the Angel Program, the initiative encourages people with opioid use disorder to come to the police department and ask for treatment help, with no threat of arrest. Officers work to place the substance users in local treatment programs immediately.
From June 2015 through May of this year, more than 370 people came to police for assistance, according to the report. About half had previous drug arrests, and 83 percent reported last using opioids within a day of seeking help.
Most of those requesting help (78 percent) reported injecting heroin, while 25 percent were using prescription opioids.
About a third came from Essex County, including Gloucester; 41 percent came from other parts of the state.
In 94.5 percent of cases in which a person asked for assistance, police offered a direct treatment placement. Of those offered placements, 95 percent entered their assigned program.
Additionally, 10 percent of participants came back to police after they relapsed for additional help, according to the researchers.
According to lead author Davida Schiff, MD, a pediatric fellow at Boston Medical Center, the results indicate that the program has filled a needed gap in accessing substance-use treatment services.
She and senior author David Rosenbloom, a professor of health law, policy and management at the university’s School of Public Health, noted that more than 150 other police departments in 28 states have adopted similar programs.
“When the Gloucester police chief went on Facebook to announce that his officers were going to place individuals into treatment instead of jail, he changed the conversation about how communities should deal with the disease of addiction,” Rosenbloom said. “As a result, lives are being saved every day all over the country.”
Schiff said the power of the Gloucester model “has been to meet people where they are and to provide treatment on demand, 24 hours a day, when individuals present motivated to seek care.”
Additional points of access “to a complicated, hard-to-navigate treatment system” are critical, she added.
Police departments that have adopted the model say the Gloucester approach is a promising way to address the epidemic of heroin and prescription pain pills, which killed more than 47,000 people nationwide in 2014 — more than died in car accidents, homicides or suicides.
More than 200 treatment centers across the country have signed on as partners.
From 2009 through 2013, only 21 percent of people with opioid-use disorders received any type of treatment, according to a previous study.
Source: Boston University Medical Center
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