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Officer Eric Adams, PET coordinator for the Laconia Police Department. Courtesy photo.




Cop helps addicts
Laconia changing the definition of police work

04/09/15
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



Sometimes, Laconia Police Officer Eric Adams feels like a man in a lifeboat reaching out to a sea of drowning people. As far as Adams knows, he’s doing a job that no one else in the state has. His title is Prevention Enforcement and Treatment Coordinator, and his role, as conceived by Chief Chris Adams (no relation), is to be the guy who stays behind after first responders leave the scene of an overdose call.

Over the past six months, Adams has worked with 16 heroin addicts, talking to them and their family members about treatment and recovery resources in the community and being a sort of life coach to people who feel they have no one else to turn to.
“When I started this, I honestly was like, ‘Where do I begin? We’re getting overdoses every other day. What do I do? Where do I go?’” Adams said.
Last year, Laconia saw 10 opiate-related deaths. Just a few months into 2015, it has already seen four overdose deaths out of about 40 overdose calls, most of which are heroin-related. It seemed to Adams like an insurmountable problem, at first.
“Sometimes it can be overwhelming. You take it one step at a time,” Adams said.
He has been present to see the aftermath of three of the last four drug-related deaths in the city. Adams said people are often dumped from a car on the steps of the ER.
“That’s awful. Sometimes, they’re at somebody’s house or at an apartment complex and they’ll drag them out into the hallway and close the door and call 911. It’s disheartening,” he said.
 
It’s working
But not even a full year into this role, Adams has already seen some success stories. One young woman was mainlining heroin every day, but when she had to call police while performing CPR on her friend, she had a wake-up call. Adams was there to talk to her and left her with his number, and she called him later that day. She began counseling and Adams agreed to give her a ride to the ER, where she spent the next several hours detoxing.
“I sat with her in the waiting room. We talked. She was in good spirits even though she was physically sick,” Adams said.
“Two days goes by and that evening she calls me. And she’s in tears. She said, ‘I can’t believe how much better I feel already.’ And she’s like, ‘You saved my life.’ That felt great,” Adams said.
 
Undercover
Adams has worked a diverse list of jobs in the past 15 years and, in some ways, his career could be seen as a microcosm of the changing roles of law enforcement in recent years.
Adams began his career as a corrections officer at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in 2000, when he was 24 years old. He became a patrol officer in Tilton four years later and, in short order, was recommended for detached service in the N.H. Attorney General’s Drug Task Force, where he worked as an undercover narcotics detective.
He was in the task force as part of a six-man team that covered the North Country for about five years. But the longest time he spent undercover for a single case was about three to four months, when they ultimately dismantled a large meth lab operating in the top floor of a two-car garage. Adams would play the part of the buyer.
“You have to stay in constant contact with the person that you’re targeting. They’ll call you at odd hours. So, whether you’re out with your buddies or whether you’re with your family, you’re trying to stay in contact with these people,” Adams said.
 
Demand-side policing
While attempts to cut off the manufacture and supply of the most addictive drugs are still a high priority for police, there has been a spreading school of thought among leaders in law enforcement that this mounting problem needs to be addressed on the demand side as well. In other words, police are beginning to treat addicts less like criminals and more like victims.
“I know our chief doesn’t feel comfortable trying to prosecute someone when really they just need our help,” Adams said.
The chief said this is called “problem-oriented policing,” which requires police to be proactive in addressing the underlying causes of crime. 
Possession of controlled substance charges can still happen on a case-by-case basis, said Officer Adams, and charges will be leveled for other crimes like robbery or small-scale drug dealing even if people are doing it just to pay for their next fix.
“Sometimes they do have to face the consequences of their actions, so we hold them accountable,” Adams said.
Such accountability can be a part of the recovery process, he said.
Taking a more compassionate approach to serious drug addiction can have real economic impacts for the state. The Department of Corrections has said that more than 80 percent of its prison population has a substance abuse problem. If treatment is offered before incarceration, perhaps the state’s overcrowded prison system may see some relief, or so the new thinking goes.
Adams said it can be as simple as just listening and talking, like he would with one addict he helped while the man was going through withdrawal.
“He would call me at all hours of the night. ‘I’m sick. I can’t sleep. I don’t know if I can do this. This is ridiculous.’ And we just talked. We’d start talking about how he’s feeling and about how he’s going to make it through, and then we’d end up talking about the Red Sox,” Adams said. “These people, they have a voice. They’re people.”
The PET Coordinator position began as a pilot program, but the department is now asking the city to make it permanent by freeing up the funds to pay his $72,000 salary while being able to hire his replacement in patrol. The city council is expected to decide later this spring. 
 
As seen in the April 9, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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