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Friday, September 30, 2016

Confronting the opiate epidemic head on at WPD - By Michelle Libby

http://www.downeastsharpening.com/Windham Police Department, headed by Chief Kevin Schofield, has been busy collaborating with
other departments, applying for grants and putting new programs in place that will help save lives in the crucial seconds before medical personnel can arrive on scene. From enforcement teams in the summer, to a grant that will provide money to train officers in a variety of mental health situations, Windham Police Department is treating the opiate epidemic as a serious issue that must be addressed now.

Enforcement
For two summers, the Windham Police Department has teamed up with Gorham Police Department to work with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA) and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) to focus attention on Windham and Gorham. 

“Drug trafficking is what we’re trying to uncover,” said Schofield. “Drugs are, particularly opiates, the biggest issue our society is facing. It affects so many different facets of the community.” 

The officers handed out possession charges and warrants for furnishing and trafficking in drugs. From mid-June to now officers made 22 cases, confiscating Suboxone, Fentanyl and other drugs. Nine cases were in Gorham and 13 were Windham cases. Many of the cases included Fentanyl brought here by people from the northeast region of Massachusetts, according to Schofield. In one case, nine fingers of Fentanyl was seized with the potential street value of $10,000.  The additional officers came from the school resource officers (SRO) that aren’t needed in the schools during the summer. 

“That’s one of the areas both communities and police departments sees as a need. We collaborate 
because an officer should not be out there on his own,” said Schofield. None of the cases were high level dealers. The goal wasn’t to generate cases, but to stop the flow of drugs into the two towns. The smaller cases are also how larger investigations are spawned, said the chief. 

“I speculate that the issue around drug use and opiate addiction disorders, struggles and issues are
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very real in this area,” he added. 

Towns in the area all have similar numbers and programs when it comes to drug cases. Westbrook has a new Community Approach to Stopping Heroin (CASH) program dedicated to stopping the heroin and drug epidemic gripping that city. 

“We are always looking at if we are using our resources as effectively as we can. It’s been effective the last two summers,” Schofield said.

Narcan

In the last six months there have been five drug overdose deaths in Windham, according to Schofield. There has been an increase in pharmacy robberies, bank robberies, car thefts and burglaries and it can all trickle back into the drug problem in society. Schofield calls this significant. 

“There is a medical cost to the opiate abuse disorder. This opiate crisis is the biggest issue I’ve dealt with in my career,” he added. 

Part of the opiate and street drug problem stems from that street drugs are cheaper to get than Oxy drugs. Pharmacology made a change to the Oxy pills and at $1 per milligram, it’s more expensive than Heroine. 

Heroine is a “one and done” drug, meaning that try it once and a person will be addicted. The first experience with Heroine is usually snorting, not injecting, said Schofield. They can achieve a high, but the more they use, the more they look for a quicker high and transition into injecting it as their drug use progresses. 

“It’s risky,” Schofield said. “There’s no quality control with illicit drugs.” Since there is such a problem with drugs the police officers have begun carrying 4 mg doses of nasal spray Narcan, which is “a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. It cannot be used to get a person high. If given to a person who has not taken opioids, it will not have any effect on him or her, since there is no opioid overdose to reverse.” (stopoverdoseil.org)

Schofield describes that Narcan has an immediate reaction time. Within seconds someone who was not breathing or had no heartbeat become responsive. They can become combative because they immediately begin going through withdrawal symptoms, eliminating the euphoric effect.
The State of Maine’s Attorney General offered law enforcement the opportunity to receive free Narcan to use in emergency settings where seconds matter and EMS has not arrived. 

“We were asked one year ago. I said ‘yes’ even though we have trained EMTs and rescue. They do have Narcan, but our officers can be in the right place at the right time,” Schofield said. “In an opiate OD, time is of the essence.”

All officers were trained on the use of the Narcan. In the six weeks they have been carrying it two officers have used it in the field and saved two lives, said Schofield. All officers who carry Narcan have to do a report every time it is used for tracking purposes.

In other communities Narcan has been used five or six times on the same person. One save was the person’s eighth save over his lifetime. It’s a false safety net, according to Schofield. 

“We are strictly saving a life,” Schofield said. Not everyone is a repeat offender. He knows of people who were saved by Narcan and now work in recovery, helping others battle their addiction. 
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“This is a human life. If someone is allergic to a bee sting, what are you going to do? Give him an EpiPen,” said Schofield. 

Windham Fire and Rescue also carry Narcan. They purchase 2 mg of Narcan for $56.99 per dose. “We can give more or less as need,” said Chief Brent Libby. “It’s one of those things like an AED or EpiPen. If we know what it is and we know that it works, it’s worth the cost. It’s life saving when we need it.”  

Grant
Windham Police Department as well as Westbrook, Gorham, Buxton and the Sherriff’s office have been awarded a grant through the State of Maine to help in carrying out projects designed to reduce substance use, substance use-related crimes and recidivism. Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts approached Schofield about the grant, which they were awarded earlier in the month. 

The plan is to hire a recovery liaison position to help identify persons and families of persons with opiate abuse disorder. They will check on how people are doing coming out of jail, help with treatment and employment opportunities. 

“The liaison will find resources for them to get the level of treatment they need to connect all the dots,” said Schofield. 

The grant will also pay for officers to become recovery coaches, giving them family crisis, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and mental health training. It also informs them about what types of resources are available for people they are helping. Recovery coaches refer and help the liaison meet with employment resources and opportunities. “The training gives us in law enforcement the options in the recovery field,” Schofield said. “There is a balance on how to deal with this. Back 20 years, the profession was forced into doing more and more and being responsible for mental health.” 

The goal is for officers to develop partnerships with groups that can help with programs and trainings, according to Schofield. “We have to come at this problem from a different perspective. It will decrease the police enforcement side. It’s much more problem solving than strictly enforcement,” he said. 

The Windham Police Department is in the process of hiring one officer this year to help with their efforts.

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