War on Opioids: From the point of view of first responders

First responders in two communities go beyond the call in the war on opioids. Series Producer: Caitlin Grimaldi Photojournalist and editor: Scott Santos

First responders in two communities go beyond the call in the war on opioids.

"The normal culture of police is you only show up at a person's house during a moment of crisis,” said Detective Matthew Beltrami of the West Warwick Police Department.

But first responders are trying to change that.

"Look, we're not here to lock you up in the back of an ambulance," said Detective Kyle Costa of the Dartmouth Police Department. "We do care about the community."

In West Warwick, Beltrami and behavioral specialist, Heather Seger, reach out just days after an overdose.

"We just show up and say, 'Hi, we're here to help,'" said Seger.

"And I just say, 'Hi, no one here's in trouble or anything. I'm with a clinician and we're just here to offer help and would like to talk to you,'" added Beltrami.

The cop-and-clinician team is part of a pilot community outreach program.

"Personally, this has been one of the greater aspects I've ever done in police work because you're not going there just for that crisis moment," said Beltrami.

"We've gone out and we've talked to 25 people directly,” said Seger. "One hundred percent of the people get some sort of support attempt."

For families of loved ones who don't make it, the team listens.

"Sometimes, we sit for an hour with somebody and just reminisce,” said Seger. "It's really just serving as a support and saying somebody cares that your loved one passed away."

They also link them to services.

Something similar is happening in Dartmouth. The Recovery Assistance program based on one in New Bedford.

"The officers being there is more of a presence and they go in plain clothes,” said Costa. "The forefront is going to be on clergy as well as the other addiction and recovery specialists."

It can be easy for a first responder to become immune, as they are used to seeing overdoses all the time, sometimes the same people.

But just about every one of those officers has a story.

"And the one that's always stuck out for me, as far as I needed to change the way I reacted, was a young lady who overdosed and died at eight months pregnant,” said Costa.

Some have no record of drug use, including a young woman in West Warwick who thought she was taking a Percocet -- from a friend of a friend --but it was actually pure fentanyl, which is 100 times more dangerous than heroin. The overdose antidote, naloxone, saved her.

"They needed four doses,” said Beltrami. “That was on scene."

It's about education and persistence, with the team meeting daily.

They are trying to build on successes, like one man who is now in medication-assisted therapy, which combines behavioral therapy and medications to help a person achieve recovery.

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