MILFORD, Mass. (AP) - Combing through the many files and folders on his desk in the Milford Police Headquarters, Chief Tom O’Loughlin pulls a manila folder that’s chock full of papers.
It rivals the size of his budget folder, but there are names instead of numbers. And the names all have one thing in common: They belong to people who overdosed in Milford.
Inside the folder is all of the information police have collected on overdoses in Milford dating back to 2012.
The first page tells the grim story of the opioid epidemic, listing the number of opioid overdoses and deaths for each year in Milford. So far this year, that stands at 39 overdoses and five deaths.
In recent years, those numbers have risen dramatically. In 2014, there were 27 overdoses and one death. In 2015, there were 48 overdoses and four deaths. Last year, there were 92 overdoses and 15 deaths.
The numbers paint a sad picture in Milford, but it’s hardly the only town struggling with the epidemic. According to the state Department of Health, opioid overdose deaths have risen from 560 in 2010 to 2,069 in 2016 in the commonwealth.
All of this information is available on the DPH’s public website. Information is also broken down by county and town.
According to a 2017 survey of 277 law enforcement agencies across North America, only 52.9 percent of agencies said they track non-fatal opioid overdoses. Sixty-one percent reported an increase in fatal opioid overdoses.
Of the 12 local police departments asked to provide their data on opioid overdoses for this story, only five did. Of the five that answered, only two had them readily available: Milford and Franklin.
In Milford, everything but the victim’s identity is relayed to each member of the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Health, health agent and state Rep. Brian Murray.
A notification is even sent to a Daily News reporter.
This information is also used to advocate for grant, state and federal funding, including a $52,000 grant that was awarded to a regional substance abuse program run by O’Loughlin and drug counselor Amy Leone. The program pairs drug counselors with detectives to provide a treatment approach to policing. Immediately after an overdose, usually at the hospital, the counselor and detectives work with an addict to take the first steps into treatment.
Leone is fed all of the information, including the victim’s name and age.
“It brings that awareness to you right in that moment,” she said. “You can’t deny it when your phone is going off.”
Many other towns don’t publicize the data, Leone said, which may skew public perception.
“We’re all coming together and saying, ‘This is the stuff we need,’” Leone said. “How are we going to show that we have a problem if we don’t have statistics?”
O’Loughlin likened the transparency on overdoses to an infectious disease outbreak.
“Would people want me to let them know (about a disease outbreak) or keep it quiet so that the town doesn’t look bad?” he asked. “I don’t think being silent is the right approach.”
It affects everyone, said the chief, noting that the names on his list are becoming all too familiar to him. Some of them - a lot of them young - grew up with his children.
“It’s a community issue,” O’Loughlin said. “If the community is not totally aware I think you’re just shoveling sand against the tide.”
About four months ago, police in Franklin began posting similar data to their website. Chief Thomas Lynch said it was partly a response to former President Barack Obama’s task force on 21st century policing that called for transparency.
“They see it all of the time,” he said.
Franklin Police have begun following a similar practice to Milford. After an overdose, detectives will follow up with the victim at their home and plead with them to seek treatment.
Along with Narcan, Lynch believes that method is slowing down the number of overdoses in town.
Last year, there were 59 overdoses and nine deaths. So far this year, there have been 28 overdoses, but nobody has died.
“I think that’s definitely shown some improvement and success,” Lynch said. “If you get people to survive an overdose, hopefully you can get them the help they need so we can break the cycle.”
When asked for their statistics, the Framingham Police Department required the Daily News to file an information request. One was filed on May 17 and the information was received on May 30.
According to the data, 43 overdosed in 2014, 82 in 2015 and 136 in 2016.
However, overdose deaths weren’t tracked as closely until 2016, when 11 died. Only two have died so far this year.
“We track it very closely (now),” said Chief Kenneth Ferguson.
The department works with recovery coaches and jail diversion clinicians, the latter of whom work in the police station to provide an addict with a pathway into treatment.
Community policing, authorities said, means forming a strong relationship with the community and them problem solving around recurring incidents like the opioid epidemic.
Doing that means having strong data on the issue.
“It’s a huge public safety and public health issue,” Ferguson said. “We want to provide the best response.”
Information from: MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, Mass.), https://www.metrowestdailynews.com
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