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Springfield police, fire announce improved responses to opioid overdose calls

Paul Tuthill
A Springfield Police Department SUV filled with medical supplies for demonstration purposes. The city is purchasing more medical equipment for the police department including enough naloxone so every cop will carry on them at all times the medicine that can reverse opioid overdoses.

Cops will carry naloxone with them at all times, fire department will staff two medical response vehicles round-the-clock

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts has announced stepped up efforts to save the lives of people who overdose on opioids.

Using money from drug company lawsuits, Springfield will purchase enough naloxone so that each of the city’s 400 police officers will carry the overdose reversal medicine with them at all times, two rapid-response fire department vehicles containing emergency medical equipment will now be staffed 24/7, and the city’s health department will get a new van in which outreach workers will travel to high drug use areas to persuade people suffering from addiction to get treatment.

“This epidemic we have to continue to hit head-on,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno.

He announced the stepped-up efforts are being paid for with money Gov. Maura Healey obtained in settlements with four opioid manufacturers when she was attorney general. Springfield is to receive a total of $7.2 million in annual installments through 2038.

Rather than wait for special legislation to direct the money into a dedicated fund, Sarno said the city will advance itself the first installment of $421,000.

“So, we want to continue to be proactive and I did not want to wait for this money to come in,” Sarno said.

In addition to purchasing the new mobile medical unit, the city’s health department has been authorized by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to purchase and distribute naloxone to community partners, said Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.

“So they also can be part of our strategy to meet our residents who are struggling with opioids where they are,” said Caulton-Harris.

The Springfield Police Department has had naloxone in the first aid kits of police vehicles for several years. Last year, it was used 115 times, said Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood.

“Sometimes it is an overdose call, but it doesn’t (get dispatched) that way,” explained Clapprood. “It might be a disturbance, or somebody injured, (police officers) get there and realize if they had the Narcan right on them they could possibly make another save. So, we are going to outfit everybody with the Narcan pouches.”

Two fire department tactical trucks with medical equipment will be assigned to the headquarters station in Metro Center and the White Street firehouse in the Forest Park neighborhood. With round-the-clock staffing, this will improve response times to the parts of the city that data show has the highest overdose rates, said Fire Commissioner BJ Calvi.

“This is the first time the Springfield Fire Department has expanded service in over 40 years,” Calvi said.

A decade or more of work by public health professionals to combat the disastrous results of over prescribing opioid painkillers was delt a huge setback when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, life routines were disrupted, and overdoses skyrocketed. Now, the strategy of a robust prevention, intervention, and treatment response to opioid use is back and the drug companies are paying to implement it, said Caulton-Harris.

“Absolutely, I believe there has been abuse in prescribing and this is just the right thing to do to support our efforts to reverse some of the harm that has been done,” Caulton-Harris said.

Springfield filed its own lawsuit in 2018 against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their role in fueling the opioid crisis and the cost associated with it. That suit is still pending in Hampden Superior Court.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.