Belchertown police offer open door policy for drugs

  • Belchertown Police Lt. Kevin Pacunas in his office, Tuesday, at the station. The department has started an open door policy regarding illegal drugs and paraphernalia. People can turn them in without retribution and are matched with a DART officer and recovery coach. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A drop box at Belchertown Police Department allows people to safely dispose of prescription drugs. The box is also used to dispose of some illegal drugs. The department has started an open door policy regarding illegal drugs and paraphernalia. People can turn them in without retribution and are matched with a DART officer and recovery coach. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Belchertown Police Lt. Kevin Pacunas stands beside a drop box that allows people to safely dispose of prescription drugs, Tuesday, at the station. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Belchertown Police Lt. Kevin Pacunas stands beside a drop box that allows people to safely dispose of prescription drugs, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019 at the station. The box is also used to dispose of some illegal drugs. The department has started an open door policy regarding illegal drugs and paraphernalia. People can turn them in without retribution and are matched with a DART officer and recovery coach. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2019 12:17:45 AM

BELCHERTOWN — With the implementation of a new open door policy, Belchertown police are seeking to provide an additional avenue for those struggling with addiction to start on the path to recovery.

With the enactment of the policy, individuals can show up to the department to ask for help, and can turn in drugs or drug paraphernalia without facing arrest or criminal charges. Afterwards, the person is matched with a recovery coach and Drug Addiction Response Team (DART) officer to assist with the recovery process.

The Belchertown Opioid Awareness Task Force (BOAT), a partnership between police and other community leaders, had been planning to establish an open door policy at the police department “for quite some time,” said Belchertown Police Lt. Kevin Pacunas.

“Hopefully, someone that was reluctant to reach out to us, or was afraid of being arrested, or that any other adverse things would happen, will reach out to us to get help, rather than stay in harm’s parameter and continue using,” Pacunas said, “or… that this will encourage them to reach out to get help to come in, and we can get them on the right path.”

The department currently has two DART officers and two recovery coaches on call at all hours for anyone who makes use of the policy.

Although the program was created with the town’s residents in mind, Pacunas said that no one seeking help will be turned away regardless of where they live.

Despite efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, the department saw an uptick in overdose deaths in 2018, recording eight deaths in 2017 and 11 in 2018. Overall, police responded to 23 overdoses in town in 2017 and 30 in 2018.

Police also administered the opiate antagonist Narcan, known generically as naloxone, to 19 individuals who had overdosed last year. All officers began carrying the drug, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, about four years ago.

Overdose deaths also rose at the state level, with Massachusetts seeing 1,233 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2018, according to the state Department of Public Health — up from 932 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths within the same time frame in 2017.

But with programs such as the open door policy, Pacunas hopes these numbers will begin to diminish.

“Obviously, our goal is to get the number to zero, where there are no overdoses,” he said, “and that’s the reason for the open door — letting people know there are people out there who care.”

He continued, “A lot of them feel helplessness and like there’s no getting out of it, and just having this open door shows we can do something, we can help. They just have to be willing to come in and let us help them.”

Ron Campurciani, executive director of the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and former chief of the West Springfield Police Department, said he thinks the policy will have an impact, “especially for people struggling with addiction who want not only to get rid of the drugs but to talk to someone about it, and they can do that without fear of anything. It’s a great approach.”

Programs such as DART, which aid with harm reduction and recovery resources for over 10 police departments in Hampshire County, are also instrumental in providing additional options for people battling opioid addiction to find support, said Cherry Sullivan, program coordinator for Hampshire HOPE.

Sullivan said that this shift toward a less punitive approach to people battling addiction is part of a “shifting landscape of policing” in Hampshire County.

“When we truly think of how to support people with substance disorders, it’s not through punishment of small possessions,” Sullivan said. “If someone is feeling like they want to turn over their drugs, it’s about honoring that and asking them what they need next.”

Belchertown is “one of our hardest-hit towns in Hampshire County right now,” in terms of the opioid crisis, Sullivan said, but commended the community for its efforts to fight the opioid crisis.

Belchertown police also landed a $34,750 grant for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) last March, Pacunas said, which is intended to guide officers in working with people who have mental illnesses.

“Our mental health calls are high as well, and the goal is to try to find other options for people than arrest,” Pacunas added.

This training also provides valuable guidance in working with people struggling with addiction, Pacunas said, noting that it goes “hand in hand” with the issue. The majority of the department has already undergone CIT training, with all officers slated to complete the training by March.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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