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Plan calling for jail time for addicts revived by Manchester responders faces criticism

By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 13. 2017 8:17PM
Naloxone, also called Narcan, helps reverse the effects of heroin overdoses. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS PHOTOS)

MANCHESTER — Stupid, absurd, expensive.

Those are some of the reactions to a plan of Manchester aldermanic candidate Bob O’Sullivan to jail and treat addicts who overdose and are revived by Manchester first responders.

O’Sullivan said his 30-60-90 Treatment Based Plan has gone around the country on social media, and he’s fielded calls from as far away as Washington state. The numbers refer to the length in days that an addict would be jailed: 30 for the first overdose, 60 for the second, 90 for the third.

“It’s absurd,” said Stephanie Bergeron, executive director of Serenity Place, an addiction treatment program that takes in most of the people who go through Safe Station.

She understands that people such as O’Sullivan are frustrated and looking for answers, but his idea criminalizes the disease of addiction.

“This is where the stigma piece comes in. Why does it have to happen in jail? You think there’s no drugs in jail?” Bergeron said. She offered to have O’Sullivan visit Serenity Place and talk with people involved in treatment.

At the University of New Hampshire Law School, a professor who teaches criminal law and procedure called the idea stupid.

No evidence exists to show that jail or prison cures addiction, said Albert (Buzz) Scherr. “We’ve been doing it for the last 40 years,” he said. He predicted that the threat of incarceration would discourage people from calling for help.

Scherr also said that aldermen don’t have the ability to pass laws. Any city ordinance can only carry a monetary fine for a punishment.

O’Sullivan said he realizes that laws would have to be changed. But if he were to be elected and to win the backing of aldermen and the mayor, support from lawmakers would follow, he said.

He stressed that the program would be treatment-based, and participants would not end up with a criminal record.

“It’s going to save lives,” he said. And in an era when resources are limited, his proposal makes use of an existing resource — the county jail.

“Most people have heard of family intervention. This is community intervention,” he said. He noted that the Manchester Fire Department responded to 118 overdoses in September — 11 of them fatalities.

O’Sullivan said he has battled alcohol addiction, and this Dec. 1, he will be 10 years sober.

O’Sullivan’s proposal is detailed on his website at osullivanforalderman.com. It would make use of the Substance Abuse Treatment Community for Offenders (SATCO) program currently in operation in the Valley Street jail.

Jail Superintendent David Dionne said he has room for the program, but additional funding would be needed if the numbers grow. SATCO is currently capped at 12 males and 12 females.

Dionne has a funding source: drug forfeiture money, which currently goes entirely to law enforcement.

Dionne said the program won’t work for everyone.

“They first need to surrender and say ‘I need help,’” Dionne said. But he added that if they’re incarcerated for 30 days, there is no danger of overdose.

There’s also differences over what treatment the jail would provide.

O’Sullivan said he would want methadone, suboxone or other drugs for detox and addiction treatment. Online details of SATCO make no such mention of medically assisted treatment.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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