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Massachusetts is one of the top opioid overdose capitals in the country. As more street drugs are being laced with deadly and addictive Fentanyl, communities have fallen under siege from this growing epidemic. With more than 450 overdoses and 45 deaths in 2018, the New Bedford police department is tackling the opioid crisis in their middle-class town of 95,000 residents in a revolutionary new way. The police officers are equipped and trained to administer the lifesaving NARCAN® and their mandate is to help place people suffering from substance use disorder into treatment instead of arresting them. By re-casting the police as saviors rather than incarcerators, New Bedford is trying to shift both the perception of the police, as well as the perception of opioid addiction as a disease rather than a crime.
OUTREACH: Saving One Life at a Time will chronicle a year in the life of Sergeant Sam Ortega, recovery coach Deb Kelsey and their team at the New Bedford Police Department as they implement a no-arrest pathway to drug treatment program for people suffering with opioid addiction in their community. The film will capture the personal stories and struggles of the team of officers, recovery coaches and clergy as they work to change their own belief systems about substance use disorders. At the same time, the film will chronicle the journey of those suffering from substance use disorder who are trying to regain their lives and put their trust back in a health care system that often contributed to their addiction in the first place and a criminal justice system that punished them. The New Bedford Police Department’s goal is to prevent overdose deaths and to improve the quality of life in their community.
Prescription opioid, heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses killed roughly 72,000 people in the United States in 2017. There are more overdose fatalities in a single year than the numbers of annual deaths from firearms violence, HIV infection or motor vehicle crashes combined.