An Update from Portsmouth Police Chief on the Heroin Epidemic

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

At this evening’s city council meeting, Portsmouth Police Chief Stephen DuBois presented a summary of what the Portsmouth Police Department has been doing in response to our city’s heroin epidemic.

DuBois said that with the rising prevalence of addiction to prescription pain medication, and with heroin now easier to obtain and cheaper than prescription drugs, heroin use and addiction is sharply on the rise. There were 6 deaths as a result of heroin overdose in 2014 in Portsmouth, and one death so far in 2015. Portsmouth first responders have administered Narcan to stop a fatal overdose 50 times in 2014, up from just 25 times in 2013. Six dealers have been arrested, and 10,000 pounds of heroin have been taken off our streets.

Heroin is now easier to obtain and cheaper than prescription drugs. —Portsmouth Police Chief Stephen DuBois

The next step that the police is asking for is to allow for the training of police officers to be able to carry and administer Narcan in potential overdose situations. Even if firefighters, who are the ones administering it now, are the first to respond 9 times out 10, Dubois said, if it saves just one life it is worth having police officers trained and ready to administer the overdose remedy.

When asked about the demographics of people who are suffering most from this drug addiction, DuBois said that what is different about this epidemic in Portsmouth in recent years is that it is truly affecting people across every all socioeconomic field. From people in really nice neighborhoods to people you’d traditionally think of as susceptible to heroin addiction. The difference in Portsmouth, DuBois said, is the willingness of the community to jump in and try to do something about it. Not a lot of people are turning a blind eye to it, and that is helping the community response.

When asked if dealing with the drug problem as a health issue and not a criminal issue was a better tactic, DuBois responded that he had no sympathy for drug dealers. DuBois said he did have sympathy for someone who hurt their back, got their pain meds cut off and made a bad decision out of desperation. For youth offenders, first-time offenders and in mental health situations, DuBois stated that there are special courts and officers and the judges are able to use discretion to try to give people a chance to get these minor offenses off their record, but for those who take advantage of the system, they have to pay the price.

When asked about an increase in other crimes as a direct result of heroin, DuBois was unable to specify, but said that a large majority of all offenders in jail for any reason at all are detoxing from something, which is significant.

Councilor Dwyer stated that at a recent statewide meeting she heard from a smaller NH town with fewer resources than Portsmouth that had 400 deaths this past year from heroin overdoses. DuBois said that deaths could be much higher here without our frequent use of Narcan to stop deadly overdoses, and sadly slash and burn budgets from years ago are starting to come home to roost across the state now.

So what can the public do to help in this situation? DuBois said that most people in the community can identify people that have or potentially might have, an addiction problem. If you catch wind of a problem, DuBois said, don’t ignore it. You don’t have to call the police, but do something—reach out, take a step to help in some way. Take care of each other. The concern of the police department is to have people well; if the community helps its own hopefully more problems can be solved without police intervention.

“Take Care of Each Other.”

Councilor Shaheen asked if someone from the police department is attending the upcoming community forum on the topic, and DuBois said that the Sergeant in charge of this community issue would be attending.

If you are interested in attending our community discussion on the heroin epidemic, tickets are currently sold out but you can contact the EventBrite organizer to get on the waitlist, which will open up prior to the start of the event on March 27th. The event starts at 6pm, at The Music Hall Loft.