GLOUCESTER, Mass. — The first person to enter Gloucester Police Department's addiction recovery program is now more than two years sober and giving back.
Steve Lesnikoski, who received treatment through the Angel Initiative in 2015 took a position last week with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), which supports the Gloucester program and has helped hundreds of other police departments nationwide implement similar programs.
"They put me into treatment, and they gave me the chance to turn my life around," Lesnikoski said. "And I'm fortunate, and I'm very lucky that I grabbed that chance and made something of it."
In the summer of 2015, Lesnikoski was living in California, on and off heroin for a decade, an addiction that started with prescription pain killers following a sports injury.
He read an article about Gloucester's first-of-its-kind program: an offer to addicts to come to the police department and get help without fear of arrest.
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Lesnikoski called the police department, hopped on a plane and made the cross-country trip with a "glimmer of hope," a backpack and the clothes on his back.
"They were really cool. They were nice," Lesnikoski said. "They said, 'You're not under arrest. We're taking you to the hospital to begin the detox process.' And I rode in the back of a cop car for the first time without handcuffs."
Lesnikoski entered treatment but soon relapsed. He was back in California when he received a call from Gloucester's former police chief Leonard Campanello, offering help. Lesnikoski returned and entered treatment for the last time.
Lesnikoski reached two years of sobriety last month. During his recovery, he volunteered and interned for PAARI.
On Sept. 11, he began working as PAARI's Care Advocate and Outreach Coordinator, working with police to prevent overdose deaths, following up with overdose survivors and coordinating efforts among police, hospitals and communities.
"It's something that I'm passionate about," Lesnikoski said. "Understanding where that person is at, it's given me empathy. And it’s a skill set that is absolutely needed in this kind of job."
PAARI Executive Director Allie Hunter McDade said Lesnikoski's experience is invaluable in his position as a coach and mentor.
"He knows better than anyone what it’s like to come to the police and ask for help," Hunter McDade said. "So there’s not anyone that could be more perfect for the role."
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Gloucester Police Administrative Lt. David Quinn, too, has witnessed Lesnikoski's transformation.
"It's been an honor to watch Steve grow as a person," Quinn said. "Steve should be an inspiration to everybody looking to help fight this battle."
While Lesnikoski takes on the new role, he is also attending North Shore Community College where he is studying for his associate's degree in drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
He hopes his success story inspires others who are at their worst to get help.
"It’s really not about me anymore," Lesnikoski said. "It’s about the bigger picture and the bigger mission. "
Those seeking help for addiction through Gloucester police are encouraged to the police department at 197 Main St.
Cox Media Group