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New Bedford, Taunton Police among 11 Massachusetts police departments to distribute fentanyl test strips

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BOSTON — The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.) has partnered with 11 Massachusetts police departments to utilize fentanyl test strips as a new tool to engage people with opioid use disorder and help prevent overdose deaths.

The three-month pilot project, made possible by a $150,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, launched this week and will continue through June. Through this project, police departments and their community partner agencies will distribute Fentanyl Test Strip Kits as an engagement tool for individuals at risk of opioid overdose.

In 2019, there were over 2,000 overdose deaths in Massachusetts, 93% of which involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is over 50 times more potent than heroin. Rapid fentanyl test strips are used to detect the presence of fentanyl in drugs, informing people about the increased risk of overdose and death. The test strips offer an additional layer of protection against fatal overdoses by informing users of the presence of potentially lethal fentanyl, though it is important to note that all illicit drugs are dangerous and could potentially contain fentanyl, and false negatives are possible. Ultimately, the kits are meant to inform and protect the health of people who use drugs, often leading them to change their use and behavior.

Through this pilot project, Fentanyl Test Strip Kits will be distributed by the participating police departments and their partners, such as recovery coaches, to develop trust and build relationships with community members struggling with substance use disorders. This engagement tool may help to save lives and foster a person’s readiness for a referral to treatment and long-term recovery.

A total of 11 police departments applied and have been selected for participation in the project:

Beverly Police Department
Chicopee Police Department
Edgartown Police Department
Holyoke Police Department
Ipswich Police Department
Lynn Police Department
Methuen Police Department
New Bedford Police Department
Taunton Police Department
Whitman Police Department
Winthrop Police Department

The 11 participating departments were trained on the program on March 27 and began distributing the kits this week.

The Fentanyl Strip Test Kits contain three fentanyl test strips, a brochure on how to use the test strips, a COVID-19 safety handout, a card on how to obtain nasal naloxone (NARCAN), a card on the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline and a card on how to contact a P.A.A.R.I. recovery coach. Departments will hand out the Fentanyl Test Strip Kits as a supplement to their standard opioid related outreach handouts, which often includes NARCAN.

“As public servants, our police officers are tasked with protecting and serving all members of our community. P.A.A.R.I. just increased our ability to do that by building upon what is usually found in outreach kits,” said Winthrop Police Sgt. Sarko Gergerian. “When you share one of these new kits, you are sharing much more than just test strips. You are sharing a powerful message. A message that there is always hope even during what may seem to be the darkest of times.”

“The Whitman Police Department is committed to partnering with resources such as P.A.A.R.I. in order to help those suffering from substance use disorders onto the path to recovery,” Whitman Police Chief Timothy Hanlon said. “The Fentanyl Test Strip Pilot allows us another opportunity to offer treatment options outside of the confinements of traditional law enforcement activities.”

“The Edgartown Police Department is excited to be playing a role in this bold new approach to combating addiction and preventing overdose deaths. For those in our community who are suffering, it is our sincere hope that this initiative will play a real role in their recovery,” said Bruce McNamee, Chief of Police, Edgartown Police Department.

“Our law enforcement partners continue to serve on the front lines of the opioid epidemic and we are hopeful that this will provide them with a new tool in their toolkit to assist with access to treatment and lifesaving services,” said Executive Director Allie Hunter. “We are encouraged by the dedication of the departments that are participating in this pilot project and we look forward to seeing the impact it may have.”

P.A.A.R.I. will provide training and technical assistance throughout the pilot project and will work with the selected police departments to determine the pathways, programs and partners in the respective community to help carry out the distribution of fentanyl test strips. P.A.A.R.I. has also worked with community partners and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to design and create educational training materials to assist in implementing the pilot program, including roll call training videos.

P.A.A.R.I. is also providing technical assistance, support and materials for departments to implement this project amid COVID-19 as all departments have adjusted their public engagement procedures to adhere to public health and safety advisories.

“People with substance use disorders are even more vulnerable and face more barriers to treatment amid COVID-19,” P.A.A.R.I. Project Manager Vanessa Lopes-McCoy said. “This work is more important than ever, and we are so grateful to the 11 police departments and all of our project partners for collaborating with us on this pilot project during this challenging time.”

The Beverly, Chicopee, Lynn, Methuen, New Bedford and Taunton Police Departments have been selected to participate in a more extensive evaluation to assess all aspects and outcomes of the project. Brandeis University will serve as the project’s evaluation partner with Traci Green, PhD, MSc, Professor and Director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative serving as the principal investigator. At the conclusion of the pilot project, P.A.A.R.I. will hold a convening to share the project’s results and findings.

“Harm reduction services like fentanyl test strip distribution are essential to keeping people who use drugs safe, and there’s never a more important time than now to emphasize that message. Together with my colleagues from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, we are excited to evaluate the fentanyl test strip pilot program among police departments and community programs,” Green said.

“We are thankful to P.A.A.R.I. and Brandeis University for their partnership,” said Deirdre Calvert, Director of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “We continue to make sure our most vulnerable constituents have access to these life-saving tools.”

“I am optimistic that the Fentanyl Test Strip Kits will have a similar success in saving lives as we have experienced with Naloxone. I am grateful for P.A.A.R.I.’s progressive thinking in implementing such an innovative strategy,“ said New Bedford Chief of Police Joseph Cordeiro.

“P.A.A.R.I. is extremely grateful and proud to be selected for this innovative pilot project by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Providing our law enforcement partners with fentanyl test strips will absolutely save the lives of people unknowingly using deadly fentanyl instead of the substance they think they’re using. I applaud the Governor, Legislature, DPH and our frontline police departments for embracing this life-saving initiative,” said P.A.A.R.I. Co-Founder and Board Chair John Rosenthal.

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