Over 75 representatives from law enforcement agencies, community based organizations, legislators, educators and students gathered to discuss what more can be done to address the opioid epidemic that has already claimed over 1,000 lives in Essex County this year at North Shore Community College’s free public seminar The Opioid Epidemic: Criminal Justice Innovations and Challenges yesterday.
A panel discussion moderated by Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger featured Essex County District Attorney Jonathon Blodgett; former Salem Police Chief and NSCC adjunct instructor, State Representative Paul Tucker; Erin Zapata-Elliott and Roberto “Tito” Rodriguez from the Lynn Police Department’s Behavioral Health Unit, and Professor Steve Chisholm, Coordinator of NSCC’s Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Program.
“The more we can convene like this and the more we talk, the more solutions will emerge, and we need innovative, outside-the-box solutions to this societal problem that affects everyone,” Chief Coppinger said. “Opiate abuse doesn’t discriminate and affects all walks of life. It is a disease that is tearing families apart.
“How do we fix the opioid epidemic? We need a multifaceted approach. We need more interventions, more preventative measures and more treatment beds. We also need to work even more closely with the school systems and faith-based organizations,” he added.
DA Blodgett described the Essex County Drug Diversion program he started, noting that “it is very important to teach our youth how to make good decisions. And studies show that you need to catch them by fifth grade as that is when they begin to become socially aware and make their own decisions. Our message to them is simple – there are only two things that will happen to you if you go down the opiate road – you will die, or you will end up in jail.”
Representative Tucker spoke of how drug abuse has evolved over his 30 years in law enforcement and reviewed legislation he filed that passed the House last week, noting that today’s prime opioid abusers are 18-26 who can purchase heroin for as little as $8 a bag, which features good purity but also may be laced with fentanyl, which is dangerous as it is exponentially more powerful than the drug itself.
“We are faced with an unprecedented number of overdoses and fatalities. We must be proactive and apply the three-pronged approach of education, treatment and law enforcement,” Tucker said.
Following the panel presentation, a lively question and answer discussion ensued with many audience members participating, giving testimonies from those in recovery, former dealers and those who have lost loved