Watertown Officials Discuss Plans to Battle Heroin, Opiates Crisis

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Watertown City Hall

Watertown Town Hall

Watertown Town Hall

The Watertown will establishing an official drug drop box, and getting about 20 needle disposal boxes as the town works to combat scourge of drug overdoses that left eight people dead in Watertown this year.

The Human Services Sub Committee met will officials from the Watertown Police and fire, the Watertown Board of Health, and local several nonprofits to discuss an outline the W.A.T.E.R.town Task Force’s action plan to combat substance abuse, Monday. Along with discussing the plan, town officials said that the drug drop box would be up and running at the Watertown Police Station in about two weeks, and that the sharps and needle disposal boxes would be placed at the police station, in town buildings, and potentially private business in the near future.

In addition to the drug drop box, the Committee also passed a motion during their previous meeting to recommend that the town council recommend the town manager require patrol officers to carry the anti-overdose drug Narcan, and receive training in its use. The Town Council voted unanimously to make the recommendation to the Town Manager.

The Task Force and Committee’s action plan consisted of three goals; enhance prevention and education activities on substance abuse, support intervention strategies, and enhance treatment and recovery support. Each goal outlined numerous strategies how the goal would be accomplished, and who would be working on it.

The strategies the Task Force and the Committee plan to use to achieve their goals include post a message of destigmatization on billboards around town, incorporate the groups theme into faith based messages on post cards they would distribute to faith based groups, the action plan read, and look into establishing the week of October 19 as Watertown Erase the Stigma Week.

The weeklong event would include assemblies at both the Watertown High School and Middle School, as well as other meetings and events for Watertown residents.

Watertown Police Lt. Dan Unsworth also said that the Task Force has considered the possibility of creating a voluntary contact list for family members and friends of substance abusers so that they can be notified if there’s a spurt of fatal drug overdoses over the course of a single night or weekend.

“It might be the right time to reach out to a friend or loved one,” Unsworth said.

There have been 37 non-fatal overdoses and six fatal ODs in Watertown this year, Unsworth said.

Committee and Councilor Aaron Dushku also suggested the possibility of sending the call out to all residents in the town as a way to build awareness as to how often overdoses are occurring.

“If there was a case of West Nile Virus in Watertown, there would, I believe, probably [be] a call put out to the whole town,” Dushku said. “Thirty-five calls, it’s not a serious burden on the public.”

Concerns were raised that sending the call out to everyone in town might increase the stigmatization of drug abusers.

“Focusing it just one people who want it seems to be the best approach,” Councilor and Committee Chair Tony Palomba said. “Because you can get all kinds of responses that I don’t think are appropriate.”

Dushku and Palomba both thanked everyone for their participation. Palomba said that part of the work the committee is doing is in memory of those eight Watertown residents who died of drug overdoses this year – two of which occurred out of town.

“It’s not often that the town, and the community, and the service agencies in the town come together on such quick notice,” Palomba said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s because of a crisis, and it’s a crisis where we lost eight people in Watertown, eight of our residents.

“But it’s also a credit to each and every one of you, to the town departments, to the social service agencies, to the individual organizations that within such a short period this town has rallied together to create an action plan, Palomba said.

Watertown Director of Public Health Deborah M. Rosati also said she was proud of the work the group is doing.

“This is one of the best collaborative efforts I’ve seen in 30-years in public health,” Rosati said.

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