Task force looks at new ways to combat addiction

  • Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh speaks at the Opium Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region meeting at the Franklin County Justice Center on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Northampton Patrol and DART Officer Adam Van Buskirk speaks at the Opium Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region meeting at the Franklin County Justice Center on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield police spoke at the Opium Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region meeting at the Franklin County Justice Center on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Opium Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region meeting at the Franklin County Justice Center on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh listens at the Opium Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region meeting at the Franklin County Justice Center on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2019 8:31:48 PM

GREENFIELD — If the early data pans out, Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, the catchall of the Opioid Task Force, will have seen the most deaths attributed to the opioid crisis in any year. While communities continue to struggle with the increased presence of fentanyl, the task force is looking for other ways to combat the epidemic. 

That’s one of the main reasons the Opioid Task Force welcomed a panel of law enforcement officials to the Franklin County Justice Center Monday for a discussion on public safety, behavioral health and community response to drug overdoses. About 70 attended Monday.

The majority of the conversation revolved around policing reform models, specifically the one that has been increasingly implemented across Hampshire County. Northampton Police presented how it works getting people struggling with addiction into treatment that is relevant to them individually, instead of just immediately sending them to the hospital or trying to figure out where the person possibly got their heroin. 

“You’ll never hear out of my mouth, ‘Where did you buy that from?’” Northampton Police Officer Adam Van Buskirk said. “That’s not why I’m here to talk to you.”

Van Buskirk has been leading the way for Northampton’s police force and departments across Hampshire County in the last two years as they build up their Drug Addiction & Recovery Teams. The “DART” teams are made up of police officers, and are often sent out to calls to help get people the services they need — and possibly, stop the sometimes inevitable cycle of jail to drugs to jail and, instead, find recovery. 

It was a model that fellow panelists Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh and police chief for the Orange and Athol departments Craig Lundgren heard loud and clear, although they said they know they will need to take baby steps before they can implement what’s in Hampshire County. 

Lundgren said the day was educational for him, learning all of the approaches to policing that could help reduce opioid overdose deaths and lead to more fulfilling treatment for people in the community. 

“But it’s also been somewhat embarrassing,” Lundgren added. 

He said he heard a lot of what Orange and Athol could be doing, but are not. 

“I’ve discovered we are really lacking in our efforts,” Lundgren said. “You have my commitment to make things a little more progressive in our small community.”

For Haigh, he noted the work they are beginning to do in Greenfield the past couple years, mostly led by Deputy Chief Mark Williams.  

In Greenfield, about 75 percent of the officers have been trained on the Crisis Intervention Team, which is a model backed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness and intended to help police work better with the community they serve, particularly those with mental health or addiction challenges. 

“Northampton is obviously working far in advance of us, but we have a goal to follow that lead,” Haigh said. 

A lot of it is behind a culture change, which Haigh said his younger officers have an easier time with. 

“I have officers now who would be a better social worker, and that’s a good thing,” Haigh said.

Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper echoed that challenge as things change. 

“When I came on, we locked people up for needles, for pot, for heroin,” Kasper said. “I’m changing, but it takes a long road to get there.” 

Kasper responded to a question from the audience that asked what she would like the public to know to help make the work of police officers easier in these changing times of law enforcement that often incorporates a harm-reduction model. 

“Being able to listen and not be so quick to judge,” Kasper said. “We’re working on that end, and we’d love the same courtesy.” 

Hampshire HOPE’s Coordinator Cherry Sullivan, who presented the DART model, said that the policing model changes have worked, because of a “bottom-up culture change, but also a top-down culture change.”

“When you have chiefs and a district attorney who use language that’s more progressive, you have that bottom-up and top-down change meeting,” Sullivan said. 

The Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, who is a co-chair of Hampshire HOPE, talked after the meeting about the importance of the work being done. 

“It’s been incredibly effective to create that positive relationship with police and people in the community, especially those with addiction issues,” Sullivan said. “It can really help prevent overdoses and save lives.” 

He said he thought the program, which is grant-funded for four years by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is very doable in larger towns and the city of Greenfield. It’s a matter of dedicating one or two police officers to the endeavor, he said. 

Sullivan said he would like to see others implement it because “keeping people on board with recovery is important, and this program is a part of the overall puzzle of addiction, and it’s really positive.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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