Police Department Exploring Ways to Tackle Opioid Epidemic

In the month of August alone, there have been 15 listed cases of drug offense in Londonderry, according to the Londonderry Police Department’s dispatch log. This includes, but is not limited to, overdoses, possession of drugs, and arrests made with drug charges. This does not include, however, any drug arrests that occur from police officers driving around on patrol, and since the logs are relatively undetailed, does not include drug related incidents that occur in addition to the documented reason for dispatch.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has labeled the ongoing battle with drugs, most specifically opioids, as an “epidemic,” and lists drug overdose deaths as the leading cause of injury death in the United States, meaning death not caused by a disease or preexisting condition.

Despite this, the Londonderry Police Department does not currently have any plans or programs to combat the epidemic up and running yet, but it plans to do so in the near future.

According to Detective Christopher Olsen, who serves as the public information officer, Londonderry has hosted a panel regarding the opioid crisis twice this year, to which they invited parents, addicts, and recovering addicts to sit down and talk about the issues, what can be done to help those who are suffering from it, and what can be done to prevent it. They brought in representatives from local treatment facilities for consultation, and at the last panel, there were over 100 Londonderry residents in attendance.

The Londonderry police officers don’t currently patrol with any naloxone (also known as narcan) and, to Detective Olsen’s knowledge, there are no plans to explore the use of naloxone by the police officers. The Londonderry Police Department does, however, plan to follow in along the same lines as Derry. Currently, Derry’s Fire and Police Departments work with providers to educate the public on the nature of addictions, conduct safety sessions in which they teach the public how to use naloxone kits, and have plans to create a space they can bring offenders once they are found, similar to Manchester’s Serenity Place.

Until then, the Londonderry Police Department is training its officers to better detect opioid usage, and provide them with pamphlets about addiction and ways to help so they can give them to families when they go on an overdose call, “to try to give them some sort of hope.”

On August 12, Olsen responded to an overdose death of a teenager he  had been trying to get help for. Last year, Olsen had arrested the teen on a burglary charge and had worked with his mother to get him the treatment he needed, but “unfortunately, he had a relapse and addiction got the best of him.” The day the teen overdosed was a year to the day of his going to rehab.

Someone recently asked Detective Olsen what the worst part of being a police officer is, to which he replied, “Seeing the effects of the opioid crisis on families. It’s horrible.”

There are spots where drug users frequent around town. The Burger King right off Exit 4 used to be one of those spots, and every single day officers were being called down for something drug related. Gas stations easily accessible from the highway are always are other frequently used spots, but recently, Olsen says there has been a shift. Now they are seeing a lot of drug use at the Londonderry Athletic Fields Association (LAFA) fields.

“It’s everywhere,” he said.

Because of budget and staff constraints, the Londonderry Police Department is not as proactive about the drug situation as it would like to be. Detective Olsen used to work specifically with drug related instances, but now that he is the public information officer, there has been no one to fill his spot. He believes they will be more fully staffed in October and will be able to provide the necessary manpower to get a better handle on drug use in Londonderry.

Another issue the police department has been facing is a lack of cooperation from the people they arrest.

“You can’t arrest your way out of this problem,” he said. In the past, the police department would use the people they arrested as informants, but now that “the penalties are so low” for drug use and possession, many addicts are unwilling to give up their dealers’ names.

“Addiction is a disease – they are addicts, so we’re not going to put them in jail for 10 years because they had heroin, so they aren’t getting a lot of jail time, if any,” he said, further explaining that most addicts will take the short amount of jail time they may get, or any obligatory rehabilitation time, and turn back to the streets to use.

In addition to trying to stop the use of drugs on the street, the officers are taking measures to protect themselves against exposure to opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil, both of which can be extremely dangerous to be in close proximity to. Detective Olsen ordered masks and disposable sleeves for the officers to wear if they are called to a scene in which drugs are present.

Even though right now there is “a lot of talk, a lot of hopes” about what will be done about the crisis in the future, Olsen hopes that they will be able to do more soon.

One small step the department is making is getting a new canine officer since the old one is retiring. This new dog will be more highly trained in the detection of opioids and will better help the officers conduct searches. Since marijuana is “practically decriminalized,” the need for a dog who specializes in finding marijuana is “not as effective.”

“I’d rather have a dog that can sniff out heroin,” Olsen said.

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