MANCHESTER, NH – Bob O’Sullivan is preparing to send out a campaign mailer detailing his strategy for combating the opioid epidemic. His “30-60-90” plan calls for jail time for those who overdose on opioids and are revived with Narcan. He says he realizes this may not sound compassionate enough, but he contends it’s more humane than doing nothing. He expects pushback.
But O’Sullivan points out that the status quo, “reviving and releasing” those who overdose without consequence or a clear pathway to sobriety and recovery, just isn’t working, and it’s time to stop.
“What’s different about the 30-60-90 plan is, granted, you’re going to jail, but it’s more of a community intervention,” says O’Sullivan, who is running for Alderman in Ward 2.
Under O’Sullivan’s proposal, a person’s first overdose results in 30 days in jail; the second overdose results in 60 days in jail; the third overdose, 90 days in jail.
He concedes that in order for this plan to work, state laws will have to change, and a system will have to be in place at Valley Street Jail so that those incarcerated following an overdose will have access to services, counseling and a strategy for sobriety. Some of that already exists through drug court, he says.
He also acknowledges that more resources are needed.
“It would require a law be created for internal possession of illegal opioids, which would trigger this process, whether it’s first-responders or Farnum Center who administer Narcan to save a person’s life. Right now the only program we have going is revive and release, and it’s not working,” says O’Sullivan.
He cites the most recent statistics issued by Safe Station for September, which include a record amount of Narcan administered in Manchester – 339.9 milligrams, compared to the previous high of 305 milligrams. Opioid overdoses are up 13 percent in 2017, compared to this time last year.
“I want to be clear – this is not a criticism of what’s happening now. The efforts of our community leaders have been effective, just not effective enough,” says O’Sullivan, who would like to see expansion of Safe Station statewide, one way to increase assistance to those looking for help while reducing the burden on Manchester’s resources.
It’s something O’Sullivan says he’s been thinking about after spending time knocking on doors. People say they don’t want their taxes to go up. Then, they want to know what he’s going to do about the opioid crisis.
His idea also is reminiscent of Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur’s mantra of “tough love,” as a vocal advocate of consequences for those revived with Narcan, including jail time.
A July 27 post on Levasseur’s public Facebook page describes a program much like the one O’Sullivan is promoting:
“Too often I hear of people receiving Narcan and getting up and walking away or simply being given a ride in a taxpayer paid for ambulance to a local hospital with zero repercussions. I have been arguing for at least two years that these people need to be arrested immediately, not just allowed to walk away. If you are caught with an open beer on public property you face a fine. Have an open bottle of vodka near you passed out in a park and you’re arrested. Anyone given Narcan should be involuntarily placed into custody for a minimum of 30 days, preferably under a program at Valley Street jail, if caught again, 90 days and so on. I wonder if others feel this hug an addict idea is working? I never thought it was a good idea and I still don’t,” wrote Levasseur.
O’Sullivan and Levasseur are aligned on the need for consequences for those who overdose and are revived, and that jail time would put space and time between drug users and their dealers, which should be the beginning of the road to recovery, says O’Sullivan.
Last week O’Sullivan spent a shift at Safe Station from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., including a ride-along with Manchester Firefighter Keven Healy, for a firsthand look at a typical day in the life of a Manchester firefighter.
“I spent seven or eight hours at Central Fire Station with the permission of Chief Goonan, and I saw it firsthand, as our firefighters responded to calls. I won’t go into detail, but these people need help. They need new solutions. We’re all familiar with the idea of a family intervention, well I say it’s time for a community intervention. We can’t force someone to take counseling services, but we can force them through 30-60-90 to get sober under medical supervision already available at Valley Street so they can make a decision about their future in a clear state of mind,” he says. “And hopefully, they will have family members supporting them as they continue with treatment, and take advantage of resources already in place, like Serenity Place and HOPE for NH Recovery.”
O’Sullivan’s Ward 2 opponent, Will Stewart, says reversing the drug epidemic is no simple task, and O’Sullivan’s plan, unproven.
“I’ve been talking to community, state, and federal leaders looking for programs that work, be they here in New Hampshire or across the country. This is a complicated issue many years in the making, and won’t be solved with political slogans.”
Citing the politics of weighing in at this juncture, Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard and Fire Chief Dan Goonan declined to comment on O’Sullivan’s plan, which is part of his campaign platform.
O’Sullivan stressed that his time spent at Safe Station was purely informational, and doesn’t reflect an endorsement by Manchester Fire Department.
“People will poke some holes in this idea, and that’s fine; we need to have that discussion. But in its essence, 30-60-90 will help these poor souls get sober, and give them a chance to live a productive life again. No one wants to be a drug addict,” he says.
“And at the same time, as residents, we need our city back. Neighbors need their parks back, they need their streets back. We need to take our city back. When you look at where the majority of Narcan has been administered, it’s hotels, public buildings and venues, then parked cars, then operating vehicles – those are the top three. It’s alarming, and we need a different course of action,” he says.
“I believe it’s more humane to be able to put these poor souls in an environment that would allow them to safely detox under medical attention and be able to get counseling services to get on the road to recovery. And as we all know, sometimes the same person that firemen respond to in the morning, requires Narcan again later that same day. It’s well documented just how powerful a thing opioid addiction is,” O’Sullivan says.
“All the professionals and politicians and fire stations – everybody has these addicts’ best interest in mind, but the numbers demonstrate we need to open up the discussion and move in another direction. Maybe if implemented, this program can save some of these poor souls by giving them extra time of sobriety to get help,” O’Sullivan says. “The easiest way for me to say it is if you don’t make change, then nothing changes.”