By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Prevention, Enforcement and Treatment program, introduced by the Laconia Police Department in 2014 to stem the number of deaths from drug overdoses, will be offered as a model for other police departments to emulate throughout the state.
James Vara, the Governor's Adviser on Addiction and Behavioral Health, said Tuesday that, after meeting with Police Chief Chris Adams and PET Officer Eric Adams, he intends to work collaboratively to make other departments aware of the program and urge them to offer similar services to their communities.
"Ultimately, it is up to the individual departments," he said. "Some may not have the capacity and if they can't do it, they can't do it." But, he said that "we want to make them aware of the program, to get the message out."
When Chief Adams presented the proposed Police Department budget to the City Council Monday, Officer Adams reviewed the program. He reminded the councilors that after at least 14 city residents, and likely more than died of overdoses in the first half of 2014, the council asked for ideas to address the situation. Chief Adams suggested the PET Officer, stressing that the police, as the only social service on duty 24 hours a day, can act as a first responder to an overdose and can coordinate a regimen of treatment and recovery by partnering with other social services.
Officer Adams was chosen and began work in September 2014. He underwent 156 hours of training in all aspects of substance abuse prevention and established a network of counseling, legal, medical and social service providers throughout the community. Adams said his plan was to identify a small number of addicts facing high risk of overdosing and charged with drug crimes to pursue sobriety through the legal process by providing the court with alternatives to incarceration.
When someone who has overdosed is brought to the emergency room at Lakes Region General Hospital, the staff calls Adams, who seeks to persuade the individual to enter the program. He seeks to overcome any obstacles, such as lack of insurance, housing and employment as well as establishes relations with the person's family. Adams also arranges for treatment, which usually requires waiting for between three and six weeks. He follows the person closely during the waiting period, sometimes providing access to Suboxone to forestall another overdose while awaiting treatment.
A chart titled "Where in the World is Eric?" indicates that Adams spends almost 10 percent of his time meeting with clients, 10 percent managing his caseload, 30 percent seeking resources and engaging the community and 50 percent calling, texting and emailing clients and partners.
Adams said he has contacted 128 individuals, 83 of whom agreed to enter the program. Of these, 72, or 88 percent, have undergone treatment and 41 are now in recovery, having gone 60 days or more without either alcohol or drugs. None of those enrolled in the program have died of an overdose.
"You're not going to save everyone," Adams told the councilors, "so we save the ones we can."
Between January 2015 and April 2016 overdoses the hospital emergency room and Laconia Fire Department has reported an average of 17 overdoses per month. But, reported overdoses have fallen below the average in eight of the nine months between August 2015 and April 2016. Adams said that according to detectives the spike in April, when more than 25 overdoses were reported, reflected an influx of visitors to the city.
Adams, who is seeking certification as a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, this year hopes to recruit a pool of volunteers and interns to assist with the program while working with the schools and behavioral health providers to develop a prevention program aimed at identifying children, adolescents and adults at high risk of substance abuse.
Adams said that success is difficult to measure, especially when dealing with high-risk individuals. But, he counted the 41 of 88 enrolled in the program who are in recovery as "a large success."