A police-led addiction treatment referral program in Gloucester, MA: Implementation and participants' experiences

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2017 Nov;82:41-47. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2017.09.003. Epub 2017 Sep 9.


Background: The increasing rates of opioid use disorder and resulting overdose deaths are a public health emergency, yet only a fraction of individuals in need receive treatment.

Objective: To describe the implementation of and participants' experiences with a novel police-led addiction treatment referral program.

Methods: Follow-up telephone calls to participants in the Gloucester Police Department's Angel Program from June 2015-May 2016. Open-ended survey questionnaires assessed experiences of program participants and their close contacts, confirmed police-reported placement, and queried self-reported substance use and treatment outcomes.

Results: Surveys were completed by 198 of 367 individuals (54% response rate) who participated 214 times. Reasons for participation included: the program was a highly-visible entry point to the treatment system, belief that placement would be obtained, poor prior treatment system experiences, and external pressure to seek treatment. Most participants reported positive experiences citing the welcoming, non-judgmental services. In 75% (160/214) of the encounters, entry into referral placement was confirmed. Participants expressed frustration when they did not meet program entry requirements and had difficulty finding sustained treatment following initial program placement. At a mean follow-up time of 6.7months, 37% of participants reported abstinence since participation, with no differences between participants who entered referral placement versus those who did not.

Conclusions: A police-led referral program was feasible to implement and acceptable to participants. The program was effective in finding initial access to treatment, primarily through short-term detoxification services. However, the program was not able to overcome a fragmented treatment system focused on acute episodic care which remains a barrier to long-term recovery.

Keywords: Addiction treatment; Criminal justice; Opioid use disorder; Police-led addiction referral program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / rehabilitation*
  • Drug Overdose / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Police / organization & administration*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers
  • Surveys and Questionnaires