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The Police Assisted Addiction And Recovery Initiative (PAARI)

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 6, 2019

The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) is working to aid local police departments in connecting with those affected by addiction, to train them in helping to provide resources, and to bridge the gap between law enforcement and persons affected by addiction.

What Is The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative?

Although law enforcement has been involved in the substance abuse epidemic for some time now, this relationship has been mostly a negative one. According to the PAARI, this is mainly because police were previously “called upon to attempt to disrupt an ever-increasing supply chain… police officers often found themselves arresting drug addicts as much, if not more so, than drug dealers and traffickers.” In 2015, one police chief in Gloucester, Massachusetts decided it was time to take action. Leonard Campanello of the Gloucester Police Department designed a plan that would change the way his department handled substance abuse incidents and addicted individuals.

Under the new program (PAARI), any person who sought help from the Gloucester Police Department would receive help through treatment instead of arrest. The police officers transport the individuals to hospital for treatment and connect them to resources for recovery—with no further repercussions. Also, under this initiative, the GPD works to remove the negative stigma associated with substance abuse. Instead of focusing on the crime resulting from addiction, the department focuses on the disease and getting people help for recovery.

PAARI: How Does It Work?

The PAARI is revolutionizing the way law enforcement may work with addicted individuals. Named after the earlier, similar ANGELS initiative, not only does the PAARI work to provide a haven in which persons suffering from substance abuse may seek help, the department goes a step further. Once a person is in treatment, the department works directly with treatment centers to help ensure that the person will find resources he will need for treatment. This can extend to funding, such as helping the person secure scholarships or grants, or getting a spot in a fully-funded inpatient program. It also extends to working directly in the community both to provide the life-saving overdose reversal drugs, such as Naloxone or Narcan, and to raise awareness about the substance abuse epidemic.

But perhaps most importantly, this new initiative is changing the ways that the community views law enforcement. As one court clinician explains, “If police department personnel distributed Naloxone to individuals most in need, the medication became a kind of handshake, a symbol that the police were there to help users, not simply to arrest them.” Essentially, having police at the forefront of the issue of substance abuse—attending awareness events, directly handing out overdose reversal medications—allows police the initial contact which establishes them as allies, instead of enemies.

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Who Is Involved In PAARI?

In changing the negative stigma between law enforcement and the substance abuse epidemic, the PAARI had to be expanded to include more than one police department. The following list comprises the states which have one or more police departments which have pledged promises to uphold the PAARI cause:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police

In addition, over 40 health treatment centers signed on to aid the police departments in their quest to change the substance abuse stigma. For a full list, visit the web page.

The Arlington Outreach Initiative

One police department which has already taken the necessary measures to start a comprehensive outreach program is Arlington Police Department through the Arlington Outreach Initiative (AOI). Developed in 2015, the AOI began “with the hope of directly impacting the opiate epidemic in our community by changing the stigma of addiction.” Working directly with a mental health clinical responder, the AOI focused on increasing the personal involvement between officers and “the demand side of the opiate crisis.”

To fully transform the law enforcement-addicted individual relationship, the AOI knew it needed to involve more than just the addicted individuals—family must be involved, too. The start of the initiative saw the Arlington Police Department reaching out to the family members, friends, and caregivers of people affected by substance abuse in order to raise awareness, provide training, outline available treatment options, and foster the “handshake” effect by establishing the initial contact.

All the while, the Arlington Police Department continued to uphold drug laws, and to pursue those trafficking and dealing illegal substances, but changed the way it supports those in recovery. Further, it has transformed the way it views the disease of substance abuse and works daily to change this view for others as well. But it has not ended with that goal; the AOI has made available its model for change for other police departments, in the hope that many will follow suit.

The Arlington Outreach Initiative Model For Change

So where does an outreach program with such a comprehensive goal begin? The AOI decided to use resources to which they already had access: their own records. Before this initiative began, the police department was obtaining information regarding customers of arrested drug dealers, but the information sat stagnant. Now, the department puts the records to work by reaching out to affected individuals, their families, friends, and caretakers.

The outreach in action can be very simple—such as visiting an individual’s house and simply leaving contact information should the person ever want to seek help—to very detrimental, such as helping individuals who are ready for treatment to seek care or get the medications that could save their lives. The model also follows the earlier ANGEL initiative, by which it was inspired, in allowing persons affected by substance abuse to turn in their drugs free from the worry of repercussions and seek help with treatment.

The model is as follows, according to the clinical responder for Arlington Police Department, Rebecca Wolfe:

  1. Educate the community, and provide access to overdose reversal medications. This was achieved through holding community events during which speakers would present on topics covering how to commit someone through the court for substance abuse, personal addiction experiences and seeking treatment, and physical signs of overdose, as well as how to administer Naloxone.
  2. Rid the community of unused opiates, because so many abused prescription opiates are obtained from people close to the individual using them, these “drug take-back” days allow for the community to dispose of unused medications in a safe way. According to the AOI, these take-back efforts have secured more than 61,000 prescription drugs in just 3 years.
  3. Identify at-risk individuals. Unfortunately, the people who are suffering from substance abuse tend to be the ones least likely to attend awareness events or treatment outreach efforts. Addicted individuals are very likely to be afraid of the police and consequences. It is important to target substance abuse straight at the source, and offer affected persons the help they need for treatment, rather than waiting and hoping they will seek it.
  4. Provide access to treatment. Researching treatment facilities, finding funding, and placing those recovering in treatment can be a lengthy, difficult process. Involving the law enforcement in this process demonstrates to communities that all involved are serious about helping to reverse the stigma.
  5. Continue efforts to prevent relapse. Inspired by a person who attended a meeting and confessed that one of the hardest parts about recovery is returning home. This part of the process ensures that those newly in recovery will have the support they need to continue treatment efforts after leaving the treatment centers.

Starting Your Own Outreach Program

If starting an outreach in your own community seems daunting when based on this model, don’t be discouraged. It may be easier to talk about such efforts than to put them in motion, but fighting the substance abuse epidemic is a worthy cause. And there are several ways the AOI suggests to make use of the model, including:

  • Partner with other local resources by banding together with health departments, schools, and local treatment centers to help provide services or aid in finding treatment for affected individuals.
  • Prevent further harm through needle exchange programs which work to raise awareness about overdoses, and to show the community how to properly administer overdose reversal medications.
  • Host public forums to raise awareness as education is key to changing the stigma.
  • Foster outreach; if you cannot engage in the methods mentioned above, even phone calls can help offer assistance, or lend a listening ear.

Getting Help With Your Recovery

People all over our nation are struggling in the face of substance abuse, and our law enforcement are taking more measures every day to aid in the battle for recovery. No longer do those affected by addiction have to stand back in fear, or uncertainty. If you have been affected by substance abuse, or if someone close to you is struggling, do not hesitate. Contact us today at to find out how you can get started on your very own recovery plan.

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