A police force in Gloucester, Mass., created a policy early June that promised officers would not arrest drug addicts if they turned themselves in. Instead, they'd find them treatment.
Given that drug offenders accounted for one-fourth of inmates in 2010 with 95 percent returning to their addiction after prison, the force's move was a logical one. Rehab not arrest. But would the plan work? A little over two months later, they now know.
The results are in and the initiative has been a success.
As of Aug. 10, the Gloucester Police Department announced on its Facebook page that it has already placed 100 people into treatment in 10 weeks. It costs less than $5,000.
"As time goes on we will study the effectiveness of the program, but we've already accomplished one of our main goals," it wrote. "Law Enforcement can be a voice and a conduit to treatment, not incarceration. Law enforcement can be compassionate soldiers in the fight against this disease.
"And we can reduce the stigma that society has by simply offering to help and refusing to judge."
But it's not stopping there.
The Gloucester Police also promised to help make Nasal Narcan, an antidote that helps reverses the effects of opioids such as heroine, morphine, oxycodone and meth, more affordable to those that need it.
In other words, they are attacking the problem proactively, not retroactively.
"Gloucester Public Safety pays $28.00 a dose. There is a Fire Department in Connecticut that pays $220.00 a dose. Are you kidding me? Criminal," the post continues.
It also called on other departments across the country to follow their lead.
So far, 15 states have police that enforce drug amnesty programs.
Jeremy Sharp, a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), who helped pass these laws in Georgia, agrees that criminalizing addicts is not the way.
“Yeah, drugs kill people, that’s a given. But our philosophy is harm reduction, try to save a life long enough for them to want to get treatment, which is what they need. It’s a health issue, not a criminal justice issue,” he told the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
Still, some have expressed concerns. According to AP, a lead prosecutor in town worries how far the police's promise to not convict addicts extends. Not to mention the issue of overpopulated drug treatment programs in the area.
"If several other communities adopted the same practice, it could overwhelm the existing capacity," Chuck Faris, CEO at Spectrum Health Systems, told AP.
For now, it'll be up to individual departments to make those calls. Few presidential campaign front-runners have spoken out about the issue of drug amnesty, but a few Democrats, Republicans and Independents running now (Bernie Sanders, Ron Paul and potential candidate Joe Biden included) pledged their support in 2000 to policy that would mandate prisons to provide substantive rehabilitation an inmate needs. Hillary Clinton has also come out in support of this kind of policy.
But it appears Gloucester police has taken the initiative of paving the way and it's calling on others to join in:
Our mission in Gloucester remains simple. We wanted to see if there was a better way for law enforcement to deal with addiction. How many more people does law enforcement have to place into treatment before we prove that? We don't want to be in the health care field, but we are responsible for helping victims of this disease. If there's a victim, there's a suspect, whether it is a dealer, a company, apathy or judgment. We need to be a voice in this. And with your help we will continue to bring this forward.
Check out the full statement below.