To the Editor:
The state of Maine, not to mention Lincoln County, has a serious problem with drug abuse, and unfortunately, it does not seem to be getting better over time. Notwithstanding years of effort fighting the War on Drugs, and promoting drug awareness programs like DARE in our schools, the trend in drug abuse has been going in the wrong direction.
This is greatly helped by the ever increasing availability of ever cheaper drugs, most especially prescription pain medications and heroin. In the year 2014, 47,055 people lost their lives in this epidemic, more than in car accidents, homicides, or suicides.
A small coastal town in Massachusetts has been experimenting with a radical new approach to dealing with the drug addiction problem: The police department of Gloucester, Mass., has instituted a policy whereby any addict can show up at the police station, turn in their drugs and paraphernalia, and instead of being arrested, be immediately helped in finding a referral to a bed in a detox/treatment center.
Almost 400 addicts have turned themselves in at the Gloucester Police Station in the past year, almost half of whom are local residents.
Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello does not underestimate the size of the task his department has undertaken, and he has no illusions about just how hard it will be for the fruits of his department’s efforts to be realized, especially given the predictable relapses that can be expected to occur with some addicts.
Nonetheless, Campanello firmly believes addiction is not simply a crime or a moral failing, but rather, a disease, and like all disease, drug addiction requires medical intervention and treatment if a change in behavior is to be expected.
Instead of the Maine legislature simply passing another law, or the state hiring yet another gaggle of drug enforcement officers and judges at very great expense, perhaps it is time that we started to deal with the drug abuse problem rationally, and treat it as the disease process that it is. Instead of simply arresting and locking up drug addicts, why not treat their illness with the compassion and respect we would want to be treated with if we ourselves were suffering from such a debilitating illness?
After all, this is already how we treat alcohol abuse, having learned the hard lesson that prohibition and criminalization just doesn’t work.
It is high time that Maine and Mainers took a new approach to the massive waste of blood and treasure the War on Drugs in America has been, and start treating our sons and daughters, our neighbors and friends, with the caring and compassion that they deserve. It is just the right thing to do.