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Tewksbury, Dracut Police Departments Join Forces To Reduce Overdose Deaths (Video)

Sep 22, 2016 06:00AM ● By Bill Gilman

DA Marian Ryan speaks at the press conference in Tewksbury.

By their own admission, Merrimack Valley police departments have been fighting what feels like a losing, if valiant battle against the epidemic of opiate abuse.
By joining forces in a cooperative effort, several departments are hoping to raise their winning percentage and, as a result, save lives.
On Monday, in a ceremony at the Tewksbury Town Hall, the Greater Lowell Health Alliance announced four grants, totaling $115,000 to members of regional agencies and organizations to further the efforts of the Substance Use and Prevention Task Force in education, prevention and treatment substance use and abuse.
Among those was a $39,000 grant awarded to the Tewksbury, Dracut, Chelmsford and Billerica Police Departments. It will be combined with another grant to pay the salary of a clinician, who will spearhead a Regional Jail Diversion program in the four towns.
Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan said drug enforcement efforts have done little or nothing to stem the growing epidemic of substance abuse, especially opiates, in the region. He said a new approach to the problem is needed.
"We know that we can't arrest our way out of this problem," said Sheehan. "With three overdoses this past weekend, we already have had as many (in 2016) as we had all of last year ."
New Dracut Police Chief Neil Ouellette said, in the past, his department had not tracked overdoses and overdose deaths. However, a new call code has been added to the lexicon of Dracut dispatchers and statistics will start to be calculated.
"Since I've been (chief), I'd say we've been averaging three or four a week," said Ouellette. The chief praised his officers for their work in stabilizing overdose patients until paramedics can arrive on the scene and administer NARCAN and additional medical treatment.
Candidates for the clinician position are being evaluated and it's hoped that the position will be filled by the start of October. According to Sheehan, the clinician will be working in all four towns, making direct contact with patients who have survived overdoses and working to get them into the drug treatment and, if needed, mental health programs they need. It is believed that medical and psychological treatment will be more effective than criminal charges and/or jail time in helping a drug addict get clean and sober.
Oullette said arresting an addict and putting them into the criminal justice system more often that not fails to address the underlying causes of the addiction.
"My experience in Danvers was that addiction and mental health issues always went together. There was dual diagnosis," he said.
According to Sheehan, there were 19 overdose deaths, in 2015, in the four towns participating in the Regional Jail Diversion program. But there have already been 24 in 2016.
Earlier this year, Tewksbury received a $30,000 grant from the State Department of Public Health. That money will be combined with the GLHA Grant to pay for the clinician.
"We've been presented with a great opportunity with these grants," said Sheehan.
Among those in attendance at the press conference announcing the grants was Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan, who said the opiate epidemic that has caused such harm in the region is unlike anything she has seen.
"I've been in law enforcement for over 30 years and it has been rare to see a problem that is so pervasive and so stubbornly intractable," said Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan. ""Despite the resources that have been directed at the problem on the national, the state and the local level, for a very long period of time, we continued to see the number of individuals suffering fatal overdoses growing,"

Other grants awarded Monday included:
  • $16,000 for the McCarthy School
  • $21,000 for Lowell House, Inc
  • $39,000 for the Lowell Community Health Center

District Attorney Marian Ryan Speaks At Tewksbury Town Hall

Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan Speaks At Town Hall Press Conference

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