New Bedford leaders address ongoing opioids epidemic

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) — The nation is at war with opioids.

Along Southern New England streets, there are a rising number of drugs and subsequent overdoses that are keeping police officers busy and clogging the court system.

ABC 6 News spoke with local leaders to learn more about their plan to address the growing problem.

From free Narcan giveaways to anyone, no questions asked. To making sure first responders have the life-saving reversal drug Narcan with them.

“The northeast part of the country has always been kind of a haven, especially for heroin use and now it’s fentanyl use,” said New Bedford Police Chief Paul Oliveria.

Every week, police departments in our area report on large drug busts. But those busts sometimes take months of work. And the drugs continue to flood the streets.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that they see that arrest in the paper and they’re like, ‘Oh, wonderful another drug dealer taken off the street.’ But really, the amount of time that goes into it for a whole drug unit. This isn’t just one or two detectives,” explained Oliveria. “More often than not, it seems as if we’re arresting the same individuals that have been previously arrested and then they’re out on bail or do a short prison stint.”

Judge Douglas Darnbrough overseas the third busiest district court in the state in New Bedford, a city he said has been plagued with drug problems for years.

In 2021, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health, the state saw 437 overdoses. In 2020, that number was 384 and in 2019, 308.

“The drug of choice is ridiculously cheap and it’s readily available, and that’s what’s killing people, what’s causing addiction and destroying people’s lives,” said Oliviera.

According to the New Bedford Police Department, its Organized Crime Intelligence Bureau got more than 27 pounds of cocaine and fentanyl off New Bedford streets in 2021. This year, more than six pounds of those same drugs have been seized in search warrants and stops. Drugs that could have potentially killed every person who used, because depending on the potency of fentanyl, it could take as little as two milligrams absorbed through skin, inhaled, or swallowed and one could overdose.

The chief said his department works closely with the Bristol District Attorney’s Office. The district attorney, chief and judge all agree that they each work well together.

“It’s really a combination of the efforts that are required to address and deal with the situation. The idea that [drugs are] going to just end is not going to happen,” said District Attorney Thomas Quinn.

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