Loosening The Opiate Grip

The Harwich Police Department is to be lauded for dedicating its newest officer to combating the opiate crisis that has gripped the region – much of the country, actually – for the past few years. Having boots on the ground with the specific mission of dealing with heroin addiction in all its many facets will help the department, and the community, gain a better understanding of the problem and hopefully begin to reverse the trend that resulted in five fatal overdoses in town in the past two years.

Officer Peter Petell will work with other members of the department, who have long fought the opiate war in addition to their other duties, as well as the Cape Cod Drug Task Force to address the crisis on the street level, building relationships with those who deal with drug addiction on a day-to-day basis. Reaching out to hotel and motel owners, who see more of the transient population where drug activity seems to concentrate than most of us, as well as pharmacies and doctors, the front line when it comes to prescription drug abuse, will expand the department's ability to interdict illegal drugs and connect with those who need the help. Combined with other efforts of the department – such as a weekly support group session and other outreach programs in conjunction with Gosnold of Cape Cod, as well as monthly meetings of Cape detectives initiated by the Harwich department – the efforts are a concrete attempt to deal with a problem that gets a lot of attention but precious little in the way of actions or resources likely to show real results.

One thing we noticed missing from the discussion: the town's schools.

Public safety personnel carry Narcan, which blocks opiates and can save the life of someone in the throes of a heroin overdose and has been used successful in town 16 times this year. But it's unclear if Narcan is available to school resource officers, and Monomoy Regional School District officials have thus far opted not to provide it to school nurses. Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter told us not long ago that there have been no opiate issues in the schools, and Harwich police concurred that there have been no overdoses in the schools. Carpenter said if the trend was different, he could see “a different approach” being taken. Once such a trend is evident, however, it's too late. Opiate use doesn't have to happen in the school for it to be a school issue, and its naïve to think that it's not happening among the older school population now. Indeed, Harwich police said they're seeing overdoses in younger and younger people, and it's not uncommon to see news reports from other places involving overdoses in schools or on school grounds. There's no excuse not to have Narcan available to nurses at both Monomoy High School and Monomoy Middle School. If it's not in the school budget, we'll offer to pay for it. It's that important.

The other aspect to this, related to both the schools and the community, is education. We hope Officer Petell is made available to share his knowledge and experience in the schools, working with existing school resource officers in both Chatham and Harwich, and we hope they'll be welcomed by school administrators, teachers and parents. Turning our back on this crisis is how it became a crisis in the first place; the more attention brought to it, even among younger students, the better to beat it out of existence.

That holds true for the community as well. Forums on the topic for seniors, parents and anyone interested will help keep the topic on the front burner. We hope that eventually, like Harwich, every Cape police department will have an officer dedicated to fighting the opiate crisis in its many facets. The benefit is well worth the cost.