NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — After the Bristol County District Attorney’s office reported that three suspected overdose deaths occurred in New Bedford on the same day, agencies throughout the city are continuing to expand their outreach programs.
According to the DA’s office, a 53-year-old New Bedford man, a 36-year-old Tennesee man and a 30-year-old fisherman from North Carolina were found dead on Wednesday. The DA’s office said while it is believed the men died of overdoses, their toxicology reports are still pending.
According to New Bedford Police Sergeant Samuel Ortega, there have been 20 fatal overdoses in the city so far this year.
Connie Rocha-Mimoso, the director of community health services at Seven Hills Behavioral Health, said while she hopes New Bedford can one day be a healthier place, she understands addiction is an epidemic nationwide.
“We’re probably one of the cities, like any other city in the country, not just in the state, that’s been hit, with large amounts of overdoses, fatal and nonfatal,” she said.
Rocha-Mimoso said she’s proud to live in a city where there’s an outreach program that personally checks in with those who have previously survived an overdose. She said it takes an entire community to make a difference.
“We can’t force people to get treatment, but let’s encourage them to change their lifestyle and look at other options,” Rocha-Mimoso said.
“This is a smart solution to a complicated problem,” Ortega, who is part of that outreach team, said.
Ortega said the team – usually consisting of an officer in plain clothes, a recovery coach and a clergy member – visits an overdose victim six days a week to offer any help they can.
“It’s really seeing where they are,” he said. “If they have questions, sometimes family members have questions. So we’re there and we can enroll them into Narcan, we can refer them to helping agencies and sometimes they just need a prayer.”
“We don’t force it on anybody,” Ortega added. “They can refuse any service we have, but we’re persistent and with all the work that’s been done up to this point, people know we’re really here to help.”
When someone isn’t ready for help, Rocha-Mimoso said it’s important to keep that person alive.
After learning of the suspected overdoses, the Fairhaven Police Department posted to its Facebook page alerting the public of a “potent batch of heroin or fentanyl mixed substances” being distributed in the area. The department also cautioned drug users to stay in groups and to always carry Narcan.
“We know that the number one risk factor is using alone,” Rocha-Mimoso said. “That’s when the fatals occur, when someone is not able to call 911. It’s really about making a plan. You’re not ready? That’s fine. But there are other options.”