Boston’s new OD police squad is striking at the heart of the Hub’s exploding opioid crisis by connecting with addicts and following the trail of overdoses back to the pushers who are dishing out the often-lethal drugs.
The Opiate Response Squad, assembled about four months ago, is made up of a sergeant, two detectives and two police officers who are ‘diverted’ to the scene of an opiate overdose to talk to victims, witnesses and neighborhood residents in the hopes of catching the dealers, Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans first disclosed on Boston Herald Radio yesterday.
‘They respond to all overdoses and they try to follow the trail on a lot of them, especially the deadly ones,’ Evans said, adding that the squad is working hand-in-hand with the city’s newly-formed Office of Recovery Services to take a more innovative, ‘two-pronged approach’ to combating the epidemic.
‘One is the law enforcement side of it, which is finding dealers, and the other is advocating for these users to get some help,’ Evans said. ‘Our goal is not to be locking up the substance-abusers, it’s to steer them so they get the proper care, so they’re getting beds, because just throwing them in jail isn’t going to solve the problem.’
Armed with double-sided business cards listing Public Health Commission programs that can help addicts find a path to recovery – including needle exchanges and support groups – the OD squad is working to connect users with people who can save their lives, the team’s supervisor, Lt. Brian Larkin, told the Herald.
‘This type of issue, opiate abuse, it’s not something we’re going to arrest our way out of,’ Larkin said. ‘There need to be alternative solutions to the problem.’
Four people die every day in Massachusetts from an opiate overdose – 87 people lost their lives to overdoses in Boston in 2014, according to the most recent state health statistics. Boston EMS administered Narcan 238 times in the first three months of 2016, a 23 percent increase over last year, the city’s public health commission said.
With the help of Office of Recovery Services Director Jennifer Tracey, Larkin said, the new unit is using data from a wealth of city agencies to create a more complete picture of the out-of-control opiate epidemic.
‘What she’s done is really pulled together all the agencies – the police, fire, EMS, the public health commission – as well as all the community health centers around the city to pull all the data and information we have,’ Larkin said. ‘That’s been very helpful. That we all know what the other is doing.’
Mayor Martin J. Walsh lauded the squad’s work in a statement, saying, ‘We know that in order to solve the opiates crisis facing our city, and the entire country, we must take new and innovative approaches and focus more on better coordinated care to connect those who need help with resources.
‘By better connecting our drug unit officers at BPD and our Office of Recovery Services, we are creating potentially lifesaving opportunities for our residents.’
The impact of the new unit was on full display last month, when information gathered by the squad led investigators to the Dorchester home of Lasonia Gathers and Pedro Valdez, where police say they found a fully loaded 9mm black Ruger snuggled beneath the pink blanket inside Gathers’ 5-month-old daughter’s bassinet along with heroin, cocaine and nearly $1,000 in cash.
‘That was the new squad. That was one of their cases,’ Larkin said. ‘There were sources of information out there that led them to that location and as a result of that they were able to conduct an investigation and get a search warrant and make the arrests.’