As overdoses have increased around the City over the past three years, the Boston Police at the same time have taken on a new approach to addressing those who have overdosed – and in Charlestown they have developed a great partnership with The Charlestown Coalition to help get a foot in the door during what is usually a hard sell.
The overdose squad formed in the Boston Police about three years ago to follow up with any person who had a reported and documented overdose in the City of Boston. An outgrowth of the Community Service Office, the unit is headed up by Sgt. Kenny Conley and staffed by two detectives and four officers that analyze police reports every day from the previous day to identify overdoses reported. From there, they hit the streets to locate and find the person who suffered the overdose, talking to the individuals about services and programs they can access for help.
The officers – while only there to help and wearing plain clothes – aren’t frequently welcomed in for tea.
That’s where the Coalition’s Shannon White has been an integral part of the citywide program in Charlestown. White grew up in Charlestown, has a long family history here, and has been doing similar outreach for the Coalition for 10 years.
Her familiarity has opened doors that typically close. One year ago, Officer Linda Stanford and White began doing the house visits together, and it’s made things much smoother.
“In Charlestown, everyone knows everyone’s business,” said White. “But when tragedy hits, the community comes together very well. I’ve been in recovery 14 years so it’s easy to engage with them. I know them and know the best approach to use because I know their families…I feel great about it and it’s a privilege to work with BPD and working together to bring people to resources. Linda and I want to make an impact on the community…If they are someone I know and I can hand them off to Linda, it makes it a very smooth transition.”
Already, Stanford said the partnership has paid dividends in people in Charlestown who have experienced an overdose being more open to listening to the Overdose Unit. And even if it’s just one person, Conley said that’s great.
“On this end, it’s a more compassionate and ore understanding approach,” he said. “We go after mainly the dealers. Locking these folks up isn’t helping them…The epidemic has hit all demographics. If you can help one person a day, you’re doing great.”
Stanford said after the identify an overdose victim from police logs or referrals, they create a file, make phone calls to the person or their family, and then make a house visit. Sometimes they find the person, many times they don’t. In a lot of cases they leave a letter, and in other cases they talk to family members.
If someone wants to go into recovery at that moment, or a little later, they take action.
“If someone is ready to get services, we’ll take them there on the spot,” she said. “If they say the next morning, we will come back the next morning. In each case, we take them to the services.”
The idea is one that is a much different approach than Conley or Stanford knew when they began their law enforcement careers, and it’s one that The Charlestown Coalition is familiar with. All said it’s a more compassionate approach and can better lead to someone turning their lives around after a close call with death.
“All officers are usually in help mode anyway, but from being in the Drug Unit and doing undercover work and arresting people and that side of it,” she said. “Now to be on this side is a different perception. All I saw when I was out there was people doing drugs and breaking the law and they were to be locked up. That was not understanding the problem, the sickness,”Added White,
“I have people coming up to me who have already lost one or two children, and they’re coming up to us saying they don’t want to lose another.”