TOWNSEND -- Two people have died in the past 10 days from opioid overdoses in Townsend, part of an alarming spike in opioid use in town, Police Chief Rick Bailey said.
The most recent death was Tuesday morning and Townsend officers have used Naloxone (also called Narcan) repeatedly over the past weeks to revive overdose victims.
"This isn't a back alley occurrence. We're talking about people who started with prescription drugs," Bailey said. "A lot of them are found by relatives or friends. We just had one who was revived at home, who was found by a relative."
The statistic that is often thrown around when the opioid epidemic is discussed is that 67 percent of addicts get their start with prescription drugs, Bailey said. Because a tolerance is built up over time, the patient increases dosage and eventually may seek something stronger.
With heroin use comes an additional hazard -- dealers may mix in fentanyl, a deadly combination.
"While we do not have any toxicology reports on the most recent deaths, last year the Department of Public Health reported that fentanyl was present in 83 percent of the opioid deaths," Bailey said.
Police departments are now finding themselves in the odd position of both prosecuting drug cases while telling addicts how to be safe when using. Among the extra precautions Townsend Police pubicized Tuesday:
* Those suffering from drug addiction should never use when they are alone.
* If you observe someone overdose, immediately call 911, so public safety personnel can administer Narcon quickly.
* There has been a paradigm shift in the law enforcement response to those suffering from substance use disorder. If you are using or with someone that is using, do not fear arrest if you are calling for help.
"It's conflicting, but in my mind, you have to look at the end result," Bailey said. "You can let them die or you can help them NOT die."
Through partnerships with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PARI), Northwest Middlesex Community Outreach Initiative Network (COIN), and NM Cares, Bailey hopes his department can help those with substance use disorders and their families find support and treatment.
"As a community we need to stop the stigma associated with substance use disorders and
reach out to help people get treatment," Bailey said. "If we don't, these needless deaths will continue to occur."