Assistance for Addicts




“The reasons for the difference
in care between a tobacco
addict and an opiate addict
are stigma and money.
Petty reasons to lose a life.”
Chief Leonard Campanello,
Gloucester, MA Police Dept.

As a plainclothes narcotics detective for seven years, Chief Campanello arrested many addicts and dealers. But, he adds, “I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they developed lung cancer.”

George, an addict from Warwick, was an alcoholic at age eight and addicted to heroin and cocaine by eighteen. His family and friends abandoned him. He became suicidal. He says it is the most difficult thing in life to face the demons inside but, little by little, “I found recovery. I found a new way of life.” With a broad smile on his face, George declares, “I love life today.”

Elise from Pawtucket also shares her story: “I’ve lost two sons to overdose. Paul was 22 when he passed, and my son, Teddy, was 30.” She states both were furniture movers and became addicted to opiates when taking pain medication for their backs.

On one of several recovery videos available at www.health.ri.gov/recovery, Elise explains, “So this is my fight to educate people.” Fighting back tears, she addresses addicts: “Don’t be afraid to reach out…. There’s so much support.”


Addicts Need Not Face Detention and Death

Elise is not alone. In Rhode Island last year, an average of 19 addicts a month died from overdose, leaving family members in grief. As September is National Addiction Recovery Month, it’s a good time to focus on assisting addicts.

Drug abuse is the largest single category for arrests nationwide—and more than 80 percent of drug arrests are for possession. Reform can begin by treating addiction as a medical crisis requiring recovery services. Fortunately, use of the medical model for addiction is increasing.

Judge James Reitz of the Putnam County, NY drug court, asks, “Why wouldn’t you want to give somebody a fighting chance to stay clean and sober, stay alive, stay out of jail, and become a productive member of society?”

Addiction affects every aspect of society. Judge Reitz states, contrary to stereotypes, he’s seen addicted old people, doctors, lawyers and teachers.

Edward, a straight ‘A’ student, was transformed by drugs: “If I didn’t come into this program, I’d be dead right now.” His addiction led to stealing from his family. His parents pressed charges. Confronted with a prison term and given a chance to recover, he is now six months sober.

Michelle, a teacher jailed for failing to comply with drug treatment, was given another chance. “Treatment court motivated me,” she says. Four years sober, she now works for Judge Reitz.

Magistrate John Flynn writes that the Rhode Island Superior Court’s Adult Drug Court since 2005 has “resulted in impressive and measurable success in changing the course of many lives that may otherwise have been lost to a lifetime of drug or alcohol addiction.”

Successful completion of a strict 12-month program can result in dismissal of charges and expungement of court records. In its first two years, despite inclusion of some with extensive criminal records, nearly 60 percent graduated. The recidivism rate within one year is 15 percent, less than half that of inmates.

Adult Drug Court saves money as well as lives: Recovery services cost far less than the approximately $43,000 Rhode Island spends annually on each prisoner. Indeed, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study in 2005 found that, nationally, four dollars was saved for every dollar invested in drug courts.

Juvenile Drug Court has also been available since 1999 for non-violent offenders ages thirteen to seventeen. The Family Court’s program “combines the persuasive and coercive powers of the juvenile court with clinical assessment and therapeutic interventions.”

Assistance for addicts is available in Rhode Island. As the written message concluding Elise’s video assures, “Addiction is a disease. Recovery is possible. Call 2-1-1.”

©2015 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.

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