Councilors Gathering Ideas to Battle Opiate Epidemic in Watertown

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Watertown Town Hall

Watertown Town Hall

The Council’s Human Services Committee wants the town to take steps to battle the increasingly deadly problem of addiction to heroin and other opiates, and plans to put together an action plan with the help of the Police, Health Department, doctors and local addiction and recovery experts. 

Tuesday night, the Human Services Committee held an unfortunately timely meeting, just days after two Watertown residents died from drug overdoses and a third went to hospital for treatment. This brings the death toll from drugs up to eight this year, said Watertown Police Lt. Dan Unsworth, after just one death all of last year.

The meeting packed the Lower Hearing Room of Town Hall, and the discussion lasted more than 2-1/2 hours. Follow the exchange of ideas, the subcommittee – Tony Palomba and Aaron Dushku – came up with some recommendations to bring to the full Town Council.

The first recommendation was to have all Watertown Police officers carry Narcan – a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose. The Fire Department carries Narcan on its vehicles and the Police Supervisors – the sergeants, lieutenants and captains – just signed a contract last week that requires them to carry Narcan.

“We already have it on the street in the supervisor cruiser,” said Sgt. George Demos. “Half the supervisors have done the training already and the other half will do it on Thursday.”

Narcan is not hard to learn to use, Demos said, who said it is like administering allergy medicine. However, it is only a “band-aid” and not a cure for opiate addiction.

Another recommendation adopted was returning a medication drop box to the lobby of the Police Station.

“That’s the top thing people talk to me about, along with Narcan,” Palomba said.

The final motion passed was to put together an ad hoc committee to create an action for Watertown to deal with opiate addiction. The group would be spearheaded by the Department of Health and director Deborah Rosati, along with the Watertown Police Department, Watertown Fire Department, the Watertown Recreation Department and representatives from groups working to stop addiction and substance abuse.

The action plan would address various parts of the problem, awareness, treatment and prevention.

Overcoming addiction is very challenging, and many have no idea where to turn or what resources are available. Much of this is because of the stigma that drug addiction carries.

Watertown has recently had two new treatment facilities move to town – Wicked Sober on Main Street and Right Turn on Arsenal Street.

One of the challenges police and others have when encountering someone in trouble with drugs is getting the to the help. The town uses a jail diversion program with a counselor who helps deal with mental health and addiction related cases to to get the people treatment rather than going into the court and jail system. Right now the town has a counselor available for 20 hours a week, but they seek to double that.

Some suggested creating a network or at least collecting information to help addicts get the help they need.

The town already has some grassroots efforts started to provide support and advice for people facing addition and their families. Both have active Facebook pages – Watertown Against Substance Abuse and Watertown Overcoming Addiction.

Prevention could start early. The Watertown Police Department is working with the Watertown Public Schools and the Recreation Department to put on programs and spread awareness, Unsworth said.

The Police Department hopes to have a club at the high school where students pledge to be drug and alcohol free.

“They would agree to random drug testing, and in return they would get a card that they could go around town to businesses and might get discounts. We could invite athletes to come in an meet with them and maybe Farina’s can donate a bicycle or Best Buy can donate iPads which we could raffle off to the kids.”

Others suggested starting earlier, even in elementary school, by bringing in groups such as Improbable Players, or from Right Turn which will teach them about the dangers of drugs.

The Recreation Department will team with Police to host events this summer such as movie nights at the 552 Main Street Park, next to the Police Station, and a street hockey league for students in grades 2 through high school, said Recreation Director Peter Centola.

Dushku and Palomba agreed that the Human Services Committee will hold future meetings on heroin, opiates and addiction.

Read more about the opioid crisis from Watertown News here:

Two Dead From Series of Overdoses in Watertown Over Weekend

See Video of an Overdose Prevention Workshop Held in Watertown

Police Chief Sees Heroin as a Growing Concern in Watertown

Panel: Tough Love Can Help Addict Come to Grips with Their Illness

Watertown Firefighters Now Armed with Antidote for Heroin Overdoses

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