Substance misuse education is the key to prevention and recovery, those involved in battling the current widespread opioid crisis say.
As part of the ongoing effort to fight opioid addiction in Hingham, other South Shore communities, and beyond, the Hingham Police Department -- along with the 26 others in Plymouth County, participates in the regional “Project Outreach” program.
This is a collaboration of public safety agencies and healthcare providers created to respond to the increasing number of opiate overdoses in constructive ways.
These include follow-up visits within 12 to 24 hours following an overdose to provide support and help not only for those with substance misuse disorder but also for their families.
Honoring law enforcement
The Hingham CARES (Community, Action, Resources, Education, Support) substance misuse prevention coalition recently hosted a meeting to honor law enforcement officials involved in this battle.
“We have a wealth of talent, information, and resources at our fingertips,” said Kristen Arute, who co-chairs CARES with Lori McCarthy.
CARES’s focus is to prevent substance misuse -- both alcohol and drugs -- among young people but includes all ages.
Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald offered a positive message, despite this daunting task: “There is hope, which should guide us in what we are doing.”
He praised local police departments’ efforts. “Their response and follow-up efforts are amazing,” he said.
At the same time, McDonald called for more involvement by the public health community. “They are doing a wonderful job with limited resources,” but more support is needed, he said. “In the meantime police officers are having to act as substance abuse and mental health counselors.”
Many drug-related crimes
McDonald noted that while the good news is that non-drug-related crimes are down, the bad news is that most individuals now incarcerated in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility are there for drug- or alcohol-related issues/crimes, including acts committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol in an attempt to gain access to these substances or money to buy them.
“Some have even stolen from their families to feed their habit,” McDonald said.
The facility offers intensive treatment programs, with trained staff “to help people beat their addictions,” he said.
While admitting that a correctional facility setting is not the best place to receive treatment, McDonald noted that “some parents are relieved when their kids are there because they are safe.”
Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz said fellow prosecutors he’s in touch with across the nation are “impressed that we can get 27 police chiefs talking together in the same room [as part of Project Outreach]. There are no egos -- we’re trying to figure out how to get in front of this huge problem.”
Cruz further stated, “While we want to help people [struggling with addiction] that we are able to help, we need to make sure that those selling this poison -- whether prescription drugs or heroin -- for money are put in jail” while at the same time addressing the overall issue.
“My job is concentrating on the bad guys,” McDonald said.
Key to the overall battle against opioid addiction is for law enforcement officials and educators to “work together to keep our kids safe,” Cruz said.
Hingham Police Chief Glenn Olsson believes education is the key. “The more we learn as citizens and police officers about this issue the easier it is for people to reach out to get help early on. Education also helps take away the stigma.”
He went on to say, “Most of the people struggling with addiction are good people whose lives went wrong somewhere along the way.”
Drug Recognition Expert Jack Richman, who is also the physician for the Town of Hingham police force, said the Hingham Police Department has three DREs and explained the training involved in learning how to identify the presence of different types of drugs following a potential drug-related incident. “Driving under the influence can result in severely injuring or killing people,” he said. “It’s a public safety issue.”
One woman in attendance was injured in an accident involving an individual driving under the influence who at a later date died of an overdose. At the time of the accident he was not arrested, she said.
“If he had been could that have saved his life?” she wondered.
“That’s a difficult question to answer,” Richman said, noting that DRE and other training continues.
Another woman -- a longtime Hingham resident who attended the meeting --expressed appreciation for the efforts being made to help resolve this serious issue.
At the same time, she said, “We’re seeing some of the same people arrested over and over again. If something had been done earlier on the enforcement level could there have been a different outcome?”
On a related issue she further noted, “The heroin dealers in our community need to go to jail.”
Hingham DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Officer Rob Ramsey said he focuses on what he called “gateway drugs -- alcohol and marijuana. No one wakes up in the morning and [out of the blue] thinks, ‘Hey, I’m going to do heroin.’”
In his role, Ramsey alerts students to the dangers of even being around someone using drugs or alcohol. “As an example, even if only one kid out of 100 has alcohol at a house party, [and is caught], all of the kids get into trouble [zero-tolerance policy]. I encourage them to be leaders.”
There are also other concerns of which to make students aware. “LSD is back,” Ramsey said, and overall alcohol use is on the rise these days.
Hingham Police Officer Tom Ford, Hingham High School’s resource officer, is also the newly appointed SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) advisor.
It’s about kids helping out each other,” he said.
In March SADD members talked about the impact regional marijuana shops could have on Hingham if voters at the April 23 Town Meeting vote to allow them in town.
Ford also noted that “friends are everything. If someone is making a bad decision there are usually a couple of friends behind him [or her] doing wrong things.”
Next year’s goal is to further expand SADD membership to include different ages and groups as well as a broader mix of male and female students “so SADD’s message reaches everyone,” according to Ford.
Recovery coach weighs in
Kurt Gerold, one of two recovery coaches working with the Hingham and Hull police departments through a state grant and also a pastor at North Street Community Church of the Nazarene, 235 North St., Hingham, said it’s important to meet people with substance misuse issues where they are and to find out what their goals are -- further schooling, finding a good job, etc.
“Finding a sense of purpose is the main challenge for those struggling with this disorder,” he said.
Helping to lift the stigma that often plagues those misusing substances is of top priority.
“Some people who want help are reticent to seek it out out of fear of being shunned in their own town,” Gerold said. “I find that disgusting. We don’t react to people with cancer or diabetes that way.”
Bringing the issue out into the open can help. “We need to talk about it openly. Stuff does go on in Hingham [and Hull],” he said. “One of our goals is to help knock down barriers that are keeping people sick and suffering by listening, talking, guiding, and directing.”
The meeting was taped by Harbor Media.