Arlington police begin reaching out to addicts, families

First partner for police nonprofit goes door-to-door

PAARI logo

Chief Fred Ryan has announced a program called the Arlington Outreach Initiative, aimed at dealing directly and in a caring way with drug addiction.

He and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan outlined the approach to selectmen June 29

 WBUR, July 10: Interview with chief and an alleged heroin user

This week, the Arlington Police Department has begun teaming up with a public-health clinician to do direct, door-to-door outreach to drug addicts, previous overdose patients and their families.

In a news release issued Thursday, July 9, department spokesman John Guifoil wrote that town police are "committed to aggressively enforcing the drug laws, especially when it comes to investigating and arresting drug dealers and drug traffickers. However, once a drug dealer is arrested, police are often left with their list of customers.

"These lists are literally collections of people, often Arlington residents, who are living in the grip of addiction."

Inspired by Gloucester effort

A state public-health clinician has been embedded with the department. With police, that person will reach out to these people and their families. The goal of the initiative is to educate families, help provide and teach the administration of potentially lifesaving nasal Narcan, and to make addicts and their families, friends and caregivers aware of treatment options and resources available to them.

Arlington police are also partnering with Wicked Sober, a Boston treatment option operated by Mike Duggan, an Arlington High School grad, and the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) to help addicts by offering information and advice at no cost and assisting people in locating treatment centers for recovery, using both organizations' large networks of qualified treatment centers across the country.

"In the past, we would not do anything with the information we learned about the customers of drug dealers, and the addicts would simply find a new dealer for their next fix," Chief Ryan said in the release. "The time for inaction is over."

While not identical, The Arlington Outreach Initiative is inspired by the Gloucester Police Department ANGEL Initiative, created by Gloucester Chief Leonard Campanello. That city's initiative allows people who suffer from addiction to turn over their remaining drug supply and paraphernalia to the Gloucester Police Department without the threat of arrest and then fast-tracks the participant into a treatment center.

"Chief Campanello has started a very important conversation among municipal police departments and police chiefs across the country, and the Arlington Police Department is following suit by implementing our own program based on Arlington's unique needs as a community," Chief Ryan said.

Making Narcan available

Both programs seek to make nasal Narcan more widely and inexpensively available to addicts and their families. Both programs advocate for long-term recovery centers. Most importantly, both programs seek to end the stigma of addiction, recognize it as a disease, and put police officers in a position to directly help people suffering from it.

The Arlington Outreach Initiative will be funded at the onset by a $5,000 grant from PAARI, and additional grant funding is expected to be announced soon.

Additionally, the Arlington Police Department will commit a portion of its criminal asset forfeiture funding to help subsidize the purchase of Narcan for uninsured and underinsured residents who need it.

"I am extremely proud to stand with Chief Ryan at the launch of the Arlington Outreach Initiative," said Chief Campanello, who is also a cofounder of PAARI "Every community has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, and I look forward to seeing many similar programs launch in other cities and towns."

Chief Fred Ryan"We [police] have been in a silo."
Police Chief Fred Ryan

District Attorney Marian Ryan'You don't need 90 days' of drugs. District Attorney Marian Ryan

A chief who favors community solutions, he and the Middlesex DA told selectmen June 29 that, a week earlier, three had overdosed in Arlington. Two died -- a male, 27, and a female, 21.

"We can’t arrest our way out of the problem," the chief said. "We [police] have been in a silo -- we need to get out of a silo."

His said his department is also working with Suburban Middlesex Drug Task Force on a program called Pathway to Recovery and Safety. 

Training the prescribers

"When I was in my early 30s," DA Ryan told selectmen, "I didn’t know a lot of people who had major surgery" who were then put on an opiate.

"We know where it begins, and we try to attack the source."

That means training for prescribers to be aware of the dangers of choosing drugs for patients.

In many households, opiates build up in medicine cabinets, and when the home owner is out, his children or friends may rifle through them. The missing medicine may go unnoticed for months.

Solution: Clear out those meds you don't need. Arlington police have a place for you to do that at the Community Safety Building.

Further, she said, the cost of heroin is declining -- $4 to $6 a bag now -- and it is increasingly cut with Fentanyl, a powerful opioid. 

As state Rep. Sean Garballey, Democrat of Arlington, listened, the DA said proposed legislation would limit purchases of opiates to 72 hours’ worth.

"You don’t need 90 days," she said.

July 1, 2015: 3 ODs, 2 deaths: two Ryans lay out their approaches to opiate issues

June 25, 2015: Police track, charge heroin suspects in Heights

May 15, 2015: Arlington man pleads not guilty to charge in heroin sale near Ottoson

This report was published Friday, July 10, 2015.