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Wakefield Police Chief: Narcan Saves Lives But Prevention Is Best Cure

Feb 27, 2019 08:49PM ● By Lisa Redmond

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WAKEFIELD – The life-saving drug Narcan has doubled in price forcing Wakefield Police Chief Richard Smith to bite the bullet and pay the price knowing that while each dose saves a life it also means “we have failed.’’

“Narcan is a lifesaver, there is no question about it,’’ Smith told the Town Council during the Feb. 11 review of his proposed FY20 police budget.

“But Narcan is the end of the line. It’s a last-ditch effort (to revive an overdose victim),’’ Smith said. “When we administer Narcan we have failed. We haven’t been able to do enough prevention to prevent that person from overdosing,’’ he said.

As part of his proposed $5.9 million FY20 Police Department Budget - an approximate $190,000 increase over this year’s budget - Smith has increased the funding for Narcan, which has risen to $70 per dose from $35 per dose, he said. The town buys its supply, which only has a shelf life of 18 months, from the state or the district attorney’s office to save money.

When opioid abuse was recognized as an epidemic in 2015-2016, mostly for Oxycontin overdoses, Smith explained the police were administering one dose of Narcan to revive someone. As the drug use has shifted to Fentanyl, a stronger and more lethal drug, “it is taking three or four doses to revive someone,’’ Smith said.

In 2018, Wakefield had 61 drug overdoses resulting in seven fatalities, Smith said. So far in 2019, there have been 10 overdoses with no fatalities. In total, 34 doses of Narcan have been deployed by police, fire and ambulance crews. Families are now buying Narcan to have in an emergency, he said.

“Seven deaths in 14 months is just horrible,’’ Council Chairman Peter J. May said.

The demographics show this epidemic is hitting people ages 25 to 60, Smith said. And in the past police responded to overdoses in hallways or remote areas, but the most recent overdoses are in a resident, a motor vehicle, a restaurant and the police station.

Councilor Paul DiNocco asked about the procedures after the person is revived.

“Up until last year, they could get up and tell us to take a hike and leave,’’ Smith said. But Gov. Charlie Baker enacted, as part of bill he signed, that allows an involuntary transport to a hospital, he said.

“The next day there is another overdose?’’ DiNocco asked. “We could be back in an hour to revive them again. We’ve had that happen,’’ Smith said.

As far as providing the “next step’’ in the form of counseling and a support group, DiNocco said unlike surrounding communities that have “a ton’’ of programs, “Wakefield has none.’’

Smith said the police department currently works with the schools in providing drug-awareness programs and a school resource officer to educate teens about the dangers of drugs. After a drug overdose, a detective or family resource officer will contact the victim and his or her family.

“It’s not about criminal prosecution, it is about making them and their families aware of services available,’’ Smith said. But Smith agreed with DiNocco that more needs to be done.

“Unfortunately, like many suburban communities we don’t have a from-and-after program,’’ Smith said. His suggestion is for the community to form a partnership with local faith-based groups to create a Narcotics Anonymous – type group, which would be funded by grants.

Smith has been proactive in partnering with the Board of Health to apply for grants to fund the $30,000 cost of a part-time recovery coach whose task is to approach the drug abuser and family about help for the addiction.

Wakefield belongs to the Tri-City mental health group, which provides some services, but gets a smaller piece of the funding pie due to bigger communities siphoning most of the money. To “tap’’ into state coffers for a bigger piece of the state’s grant pie, Smith suggested a regional approach  with a grant writer to help secure funding.

Councilor Mehreen Butts said adding the cost of a recovery coach is easy for the Town Council to accomplish, but she initiated a challenge to her council members to find “creative ways to fund things other than Narcan. This is a public health issue that is no way over.’’

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