Drug overdoses and overdose deaths have both increased in Falmouth this year.
For the first half of 2019, the Falmouth Police Department responded to 74 overdoses and nine resulted in deaths. This included three overdose deaths over the course of two days in March.
This is up from 52 overdoses resulting in three deaths over the same time frame last year. Police responded to 11 overdoses at sober houses, up from seven during the same time frame last year.
Police Chief Edward A. Dunne said the department is taking numerous steps to reduce those figures.
“We’re going out; we’re visiting with people and trying to get them help and doing Section 35 [warrants] when they don’t want help,” Chief Dunne said.
Every person who overdoses in Falmouth is visited by a member of the Falmouth Police Department and Lenny Cardoza, the recovery manager with Gosnold.
“We visit every one of the people we interact with,” Chief Dunne said. “Services are being offered. The question is, if they are in the right place to accept those services.”
Not everyone is, but the department works to connect those ready for treatment with treatment options. The department escalates the process if an individual overdoses a second time.
“If we deal with you more than once, if we deal with you a second time, you will get a Section 35,” he said.
A Section 35 is an an involuntary committal for substance abuse. Those taken in on a Section 35 warrant are transported to Falmouth District Court, evaluated and committed for treatment.
“This is all about saving lives,” Chief Dunne said.
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In addition to an increase in overdoses, the Falmouth Police Department has used more Narcan this year. Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, is a medication used to block the effects of opioids during an overdose. It is typically administered as a spray into a person’s nostrils.
The police department administered 22 doses of Narcan during the first six months of the year, up from 15 doses during the same time period last year, which suggests that more people are calling the police department when an overdose occurs.
He cited awareness of the Good Samaritan Law as another reason for the increase in calls. In the case of an overdose, the law protects the caller and overdose victim from arrest and prosecution for drug possession or related offenses.
“The Good Samaritan Law protects those who call us,” Chief Dunne said. “At this point, it is about saving lives. You don’t have to worry about being prosecuted.”
The law also protects those who administer naloxone to an overdose victim.
“A lot of families have Narcan, and by the time we’ve gotten there, Narcan has been administered once or twice,” Chief Dunne said. “When we arrive, our offices uses Narcan. When the fire department arrives, they use Narcan.”
It is safe to use Narcan multiple times on a person suffering from an overdose, he said.
Even with its availability, overdoses can turn fatal. Chief Dunne named two potential reasons for the increased in overdose deaths this year. The first is an increase in fentanyl, which is frequently laced into other drugs and can cause an immediate overdose. The second is people using drugs alone.
“When people are doing it alone, there is nobody to call,” he said.
He reported that several overdose deaths were reported after the fact. One person used drugs in the evening after the family was asleep and was found dead in the morning.
Chief Dunne noted that while drug overdoses have increased in the first six months of this year, they had been on the decline. In 2018, there 114 total overdoses resulting in six deaths, down from 162 overdoses resulting in 21 deaths in 2017. The number of Narcan doses administered by police increased from 21 to 36 during that time period.
He highlighted the efforts of the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod, which offers free Narcan training programs. The group hosted a training and distributed Narcan at the Gus Canty Community Center earlier this year.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, which is trying to save lives and help people,” Chief Dunne said.