At first, it sounded ideal — people with addictions could walk into the local police department and, instead of being arrested, turn in their paraphernalia and get treatment. But when treatment programs across the country — mostly in Florida — heard that the Gloucester, Massachusetts, police department was going to make sure any addict who wanted treatment got it, they wanted to help. The result is that Massachusetts, which has a robust treatment community, is seeing patients sent off to Florida.

At A New Start in West Palm Beach, Florida, former Massachusetts resident Colin McMasters flew to his home state to meet with Chief Leonard Campanello and become part of what is referred to as the “Gloucester Initiative.” A New Start, which only takes out-of-network insured patients, committed to provide scholarships to patients without insurance coming from Gloucester.

McMasters, 28, went to treatment 23 times — 20 in Massachusetts and three in Florida — before finally finding sobriety two years ago at A New Start. “Recovery is different here in Florida,” he said. And when he read about the Gloucester Initiative, he saw it as an opportunity for his treatment program.

“We have sober living as well,” said McMasters, adding that the program is accredited by FARR and the state’s Department of Children and Families.

McMasters is “reaching out to other police departments” in Massachusetts as well. For example, in Arlington, the police department confiscates drug dealers’ cell phones and then goes door-to-door to find everyone who has been called or texted. “Those people need help,” he said, because they are clients of the drug dealer.

Massachusetts has had health reform for years, and most people have insurance, but McMasters said that he knows many drug addicts don’t. “I had the opportunity to be on MassHealth, but I never applied, because as a drug addict I know that Massachusetts would take me regardless, because the state pays,” he said.

So far, Gloucester has placed 58 people into treatment, according to a July 20 press release.

Medications are not a mainstay of treatment at A New Start, where “we wean you down to the lowest dose that is medically necessary” of any medication, said McMasters. However, drug testing is an essential part of treatment, with patients going to an intensive outpatient program (IOP) three days a week and getting tested each day they go. Samples are sent to Living Tree Laboratories after the on-site testing is done.

Why not local?

Lisa Clark, vice president with Adcare, based in Worcester, called Chief Campanello “because I wanted to introduce myself and make him aware of Adcare as a local resource,” she said.

The Gloucester Police Department has formed a “Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, Inc.” and applied for 501(c)(3) status. It wants donations to help fund treatment and transportation.

Sue Hochstedler, senior clinician with The Discover Program at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, said there were only good intentions behind the program, but that it would be better for people to receive treatment closer to home.

Still, the police department and the town, along with health care providers, decided to offer treatment on demand. “People can walk into the police department, ask for help, and they won’t be arrested,” she said. Under the “Angel” program of the police department, a volunteer sits with the addict in the hospital emergency department for medical screening.

It’s also significant that despite Massachusetts’ focus on treatment, the state also has a sizable opioid problem, and police departments may prefer detoxification to buprenorphine. This puts pressure on existing residential programs. “We want to say that we can offer treatment on demand, but we’re not sure on any given day that we’ll have a bed in the Lahey system,” Hochstedler said (Addison Gilbert is part of Lahey Behavioral Health).

When Chief Campanello publicized the treatment initiative on Facebook, facilities came forward from around the country to offer help. “There was no intention to force them out of the state,” Hochstedler said. “But we do have good treatment locally, and a continuum of services here in Gloucester.”

It would be better for patients to “stay close to home and stay in our robust recovery community here,” said Hochstedler. “We have had a tremendous number of Florida programs pursue us. I don’t like the idea of people staying in a motel, nobody with them at night, and then going in a cab to an IOP during the day.” It’s also unfortunate that when they return, they will have been discharged, and their treatment benefits used up, she said.

However, in Gloucester, the treatment initiative “was all heartfelt,” she said. “It all snowballed so quickly that nobody wanted to turn what seemed like a helping hand away.”

But Hochstedler doesn’t think patients will mind going to Florida. “I don’t think anybody’s being duped,” she said. Like many patients in the Northeast, they like the idea of being near the sand, surf, palm trees, and vacation spot. “They have this glamorous idea of Florida.”

The PR firm handling the announcements of the “partnerships” between the Gloucester Police Department and treatment programs is headed by John Guilfoil of Boston, who did not return our calls. Chief Campanello also did not return our call.