FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – It was around 7 a.m. when Fall River Police Sergeant J.T. Hoar recalls treating an overdose victim. Hours later, when he returned for his overnight shift, he treated the same person for their second overdose in a 24-hour span.
“That person’s day was knocking on death’s door and being revived, and then later that night, 13 hours later, doing the same thing,” he said.
It’s commonplace now for his department to respond to multiple calls for overdoses in a single day. Since June 1, they’ve responded to 12 reported overdoses. Add that to the number they’ve seen since the start of 2018, and police have responded to 407 reported overdoses.
“It’s totally laboring because police are usually the first ones on the scene,” he said. Now officers are equipped with Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote, and are playing a new, life-saving role.
At a roundtable forum Friday, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito met in Fall River with State Sen. Michael Rodrigues, Rep. Carole Fiola and members of Project Reconnect, an organization that offers support to those impacted by the nationwide opioid epidemic.
“This is a significant issue for our Commonwealth and across our country,” Polito said. “Over 80 percent of the deaths now have a fentanyl component, so synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanyl are too prevalent in our communities.”
She said she and other state leaders are trying to crack down on the drug supply, while also working to get more funding and resources for programs that treat the drug addicted.
“There’s much more to do both on the front end to reduce the exposure people are having to opiates,” she said. “Also long term treatment we know is working, so more of that.”
In 2016, Fall River saw 930 overdoses, 72 of which resulted in deaths. In 2017, 900 people were treated for overdoses, and 55 died. So far in 2018, 25 people have died from suspected drug overdoses.
“The big thing is the survivors,” said Hoar, who added police and community organizations spend time conducting follow-up visits with known users to attempt to get them help and get them off drugs.
He also said his department has hired a criminal analyst to crunch numbers and dig deeper into the overdose data.
Despite the steps law enforcement and other community leaders have already taken, Polito said there’s still work to be done.
“More efforts are needed,” she said. “It’s a team effort and we’ll continue to focus with great energy and determination to reduce this epidemic in our Commonwealth.”