COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.

Get the latest information from CDC ( | NIH Resources | NIDA Resources

Drugs & Health Blog

“Addiction itself is not a crime, it’s a disease.”

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

If you walked into a police station, told the officer behind the desk that you’re addicted to drugs, handed over your equipment (needles, etc.) and/or illegal drugs, and asked for help, what do you think would happen?

You’d be in trouble. You’d be arrested. Simple as that.

Unless, that is, you live in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where, beginning June 1, 2015, people with drug addictions who do the above will receive something different: help.

In a May 4 Facebook post, the Gloucester police department announced a revolutionary shift in how it will work with people who are addicted to drugs who present themselves at a police station. Each one will be assigned an “angel”—not within days, but right then and there—who will guide them through the system toward detox and recovery.

That’s not the only help the police department is offering. They have worked out a deal with CVS and a local pharmacy chain to allow anyone access to naloxone (brand name Narcan), a drug that often reverses the effects of opioid overdose. And guess how the Narcan will be paid for? With money that law enforcement has seized from drug dealers during investigations.

The reason for this radical change in how Gloucester fights addiction—from punishing people with the disease to helping them recover—was tragic: in 2015 so far, opioid overdoses have caused four deaths in the town. The response to the police department’s Facebook post has been overwhelming, with more than 31,000 likes and mostly positive comments.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello said, “Addiction itself is not a crime, it’s a disease.… And when we start seeing lives lost because of it, and we don’t see any results from an enforcement standpoint, we have to start looking at it differently.”

It takes a lot of courage for Chief Campanello (who’s a former narcotics detective), the Gloucester police department, and city officials to rethink their entire approach to reducing the terrible price of addiction in their community. And from those of us at the Drugs & Health Blog, thank you.

Tell us in the comments: What do you think about dealing with addiction this way?

Update: Has Gloucester's "help-not-jail" approach been a success? Find out here.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Wow! Finally this is an answer to many prayers. Being the mother of an opiate addict for many years now I am telling you that this is a step in the right direction. So wish your technique could catch on here in NC. I have never in my life seen such a vicious cycle. The police have a major crisis on their hands and the court system is so broken. I have been on the stand and testified against my own child in a desperate plea to help her get the treatment she desperately needs before it's too late. The judge told me that her charges were not serious enough to merit such punishment. That was 6 years ago, 4 prison terms of less than a year and several near fatal overdoses. Anyone that has witnessed this sadness knows that the so called rock bottom is short lived and every time she is ready to commit herself, there are no beds available for detox or if she does get into detox there is no place to go after that short week. I am at my wits end with the cycle. I praise your police chief for taking action in a different way to try to tame this addiction beast! I have known 4 young lives lost to overdose just this year and we are not even have way though it yet. Feeling so scared for my child and others whom are battling this terrible desease. God bless each of you for taking a stand.
Great idea love it it's gonna save a lot of lives.
I'm an addict myself, and it's most definitely a disease. A medical disorder of an organ in your body, I was once told. This is fantastic news and my hopes are that this will spark up all over the country. Thank you.
100% agree with them . I am an addict in recovery and if I could of turned in my paraphernalia and gotten help for substance abuse where I live , I wouldn"t be a convicted felon today. Admitting you have a problem is the hard part and nothing will help you if you don"t want to quit. Decriminalization of addiction is a good start,but I have doubts about its long term success.
Very solutions oriented program. I believe Angels and many twelve step programs after detox can be a viable Solution. Making changes in our broken system is encouraging
yes my brothers are drug abuse so i need help to help them
lerab ebglish
100% agree with them . I am an addict in recovery and if I could of turned in my paraphernalia and gotten help for substance abuse where I live , I wouldn"t be a convicted felon today. Admitting you have a problem is the hard part and nothing will help you if you don"t want to quit. Policy changing for opioid addiction is a good start,but I have doubts about ts long term success.Opioid abuse resulting in death will always be a problem until they ban prescription painkillers.
Wouldn't it be great if this spreads to every police department across the Nation?
SO TRUE and such a creative concept to help the sick and suffering addicts find their way to treatment...Not an over crowded jail cell.... A job well done in Massachusetts..
That´s the right way to deal with this social issues. Drug addicts are victims, no victimizers. They deserve all the help communities can provide. Police Departments are part of our Communities. Psychologist from Colombia
This is wonderful and needs to be done everywhere, there are too many people out there that want help but don't know where to turn. Due to lack of insurance, transportation, and other factors. People need to know there is a way out!
This is amazing and i wish we could get ft lauderdale to do this<3
just stop using drugs people
if you knew the stories behind the people that do use you would not be saying that. Or would you because you think everything in life is as easy as that....
If this opportunity were given around the united states I guarantee there will be a decline in drug related deaths, most addicts don't get clean and sober because lack of "free" medical detox or programs . People need to understand addiction is a disease and something an ex addict will fight the rest there lives because once clean and sober its only one day at a time and free detox and help is hard to find and the world needs to know junkies are broke and no help offered death is in all addicts near future
wow. the cops actually care for once... Amen I hope this will continue across the country as well... Cops have made us addicts fear/hate them for years.. Yes we need help! duh...
This is totally correct. Butt the government still acts like it's a crime, even though we now have scientific proof that it's a disease. So why are addicts (or anyone possessing drugs) still sent to jail? The system needs to be reformed so no more people are sent to prison for drug possession. Addicts need compassion and treatment, not jail! I'm curious, is NIDA doing anything to stop the mass enprisionment pf drug addicts and get them the help they need instead of locking them up?

NIDA, as part of the National Institutes of Research, is the world’s primary funder of research on drug abuse and addiction. As part of our mission we share with Congress, other lawmakers, and the general public the results from our research on how drug use and addiction change the form and function of the brain with the hope that scientific information will help inform policy and laws. We agree with you that people who are addicted need compassion and treatment, but only lawmakers and those who elect them can bring about systematic change in how addiction is addressed in this country.

This needs to become the norm. Rich and addicted? Luxury Rehab. Poor and addicted? JAIL, PRISON, DEATH - HOMOCIDE, SUICIDE. Shame on this country.
Yes, SHAME ON THIS COUNTRY. Who do parents think provides all these addicting drugs to not only our children, but parents as well. It's our psychiatrists, GP's and healthcare providers. They have now become our legal 'drug pushers' and it's an epidemic in this country, and world wide. the pharmaceutical companies who heavily promote drugs, highly addicting drugs, through TV advertising. The DSM-5 is taking every human emotion and turning them into 'mental illness'. And once you are prescribed psychiatric drugs you a patient for life. Just where pharmaceutical companies want you. I know, I used to be one. They are killing our children at such an alarming rate and parents don't seem upset about this. And I can NOT figure out why. I have been researching psychiatric drugs agrgessively for the past two years and what I'm discovering is appalling, horrifying, and tragic. And this over-drugging needs to stop. But until we get angry, band together & fight for our children's lives, or perhaps our own as I had too, this tragic situation will only continue. And your child may be the next one to die.
people just stop with the drugs
It's really great that the police is now trying to actually solve the problem instead of put it off until drug abusers get out of jail and start using drugs again.
Thank you thank you thank you! My mom is a recovering addict and I'm doing a speech on how addiction should be treated as an illness not a crime and this is super uplifting & inspiring to see

Glad to hear it! In case you're interested, we also have a post explaining some of the brain science behind the disease model of addiction here:

I think this is a great move to a more drug-free society. Assigning "angels:" people who help others recover is a positive approach to something bad, instead of arrest which is negative and only further depresses the drug addict. Addiction is not a crime, but a disease and addicted people cannot help themselves from wanting more drugs to abuse. If people see that there are others whose only job is to encourage and help them recover instead of people getting mad at them- arresting them (which only wants them to use drugs to make them happy again), they will be a lot more willing to attempt to recover.