LACONIA — Police Chief Christopher Adams told the City Council Monday night that the position of Prevention, Education, and Treatment (PET) Coordinator has accomplished remarkable things in the four months since the program began and announced plans to now hire an additional officer to replace the one who is now the community's go-to person on the substance abuse front.
Chief Adams also indicated that with council support he will make the PET Coordinator — Officer Eric Adams — a permanent position. The move, he said, will cost the city another $36,000 in the next fiscal year. $50,000 was added to this year's budget to fund the trial run.
"I couldn't be happier with Eric's (Adams — no relation) progress over the past four months," said Chief Adams. "I have watched from a distance as he started making connections among those in treatment, prevention, education, health care, and he judicial system.
Eric Adams told the council he responds to all overdoses during the day and helps the people — often family and friends — to cope with the crisis.
He also provides the names of social agencies who can help recovering addicts and their families. Eric Adams said he is becoming known throughout the drug community as someone who people can trust to get them help.
"We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," he said.
He told the council about one instance on Winter Street where he responded to an overdose and was able to get the two people who were with the victim into rehab. He said he heard from them recently and both are clean, both have jobs and both of them have physically removed themselves from the area and are living with a relative.
He said the woman told him that if he hadn't intervened an explain where she could get help, she's sure she's be dead today of an overdose.
Eric Adams said the reason he is able to do these things for people is that typically, patrol officers and a supervisor respond to drug overdoses, but most of the time they can't stay long enough to help the family. He can.
To date, Eric Adams has worked with nine individuals and is still working with six of them. He has attended nearly 80 meetings with various agencies including Horizons Behavioral Health, Genesis Mental Health, Stand Up Laconia, and representatives from the court system. He is active in Recovery Court, which is headed by Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.
After the presentation, Mayor Edward Engler said is was his understanding that the city added $50,000 to the fiscal year 2015 police budget for the PET Coordinator and if the program went well it would be funded for fiscal year 2016.
Councilor Brenda Baer commented that if the department was hiring three new officers — to cover retirement and resignations — then the new officers would be earning a lower rate than were the ones who left.
Police Capt. Bill Clary, who heads the administration wing of the department, said two of the potential hires are already N.H. certified officers and although there will be some minor savings it is not enough to cover the added FY-2016 $36,000 cost for the PET Coordinator.
All of the councilors said they felt Eric Adams was making great strides toward filling the gaps in the treatment and prevention programs and in identifying those people who at the highest risk of dying.
In addition to praise from the City Council, a number of community members including Clare Persson of Stand Up Laconia, Lisa Morris of Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, and Dick Smith and Elaine Morrison of the former River Art Crew spoke in favor of the PET coordination program and urged the City Council to fund the position in 2015-2016.
Persson said they have had a number of "wonderful" meetings at Stand Up Laconia. "We all have our piece to do and it important that we identify resources." she said.
"We are on the verge of something big here," said Morris, who said the PET and Eric Adams show the community that the police are invested in reducing drug abuse.
Smith and Morrison noted that one area often forgotten is the step from prison or jail back into real life. She said the PET coordinator is the "best possible thing for Laconia."
A woman from Gilford complemented Laconia on its program as did Dick Bouchard and Larry Frates.
All of councilors appeared to support continuing the PET program.
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