As attitudes in the “war on drugs” change, the city is hoping to tackle the opioid crisis as a public health problem rather than a law enforcement one.
“Twenty years ago, we had the war on drugs. We know that it didn’t work,” Framingham Director of Public Health Sam Wong told a community forum at MetroWest Medical Center’s Perini Auditorium.
Mayor Yvonne Spicer hosted the forum, whose speakers included Police Chief Ken Ferguson and Sarah Abbott, director of the Jail Diversion Program.
Wong discussed programs like frequent clean needle exchanges in the community. People can drop off dirty needles in exchange for clean ones. Wong said it solved the problem of people throwing dirty needles in parks or trails and could help prevent outbreaks of HIV or Hepatitis-C. But the program also offers public health professionals with an opportunity to talk face-to-face with those struggling with addiction.
“We can engage them, ask them whether it’s time for treatment. Every time they come in, it’s an engagement. It’s a chance to engage in a dialogue,” said Wong.
Abbott discussed the work the Jail Diversion Program is doing in the city. The program pairs police officers with professional clinicians when responding to calls involving mental health or substance abuse. They provide de-escalation, crisis stabilization, and other methods to divert a person from an arrest and toward treatment. Abbott said the program is geared toward non-violent offenders. The program is operated jointly by Advocates and the police department.
After showing up at the scene of an overdose, the program usually arranges for a follow-up to speak with the person receiving treatment. Abbott said often people are willing to consider treatment 48 hours after an overdose.
“We’ll make referrals to recovery advocates and treatment recommendations,” said Abbott. “It’s a way to tell them, ‘when you’re ready, we’re here.’ We really feel like we’re planting seeds all over the city.”