DECEMBER 07, 2016
Former firefighter Joseph Litrico said he hit bottom in March 2012 as he stood handcuffed, in uniform outside the local station where he worked.
“I wasn’t in control; I was driven by opiates 110 percent,” Litrico said.
The Manchester man offered his story of addiction, humiliation and recovery at a press conference Monday announcing the launch of the Heroin/Opioid Prevention & Education Initiative. A local response to the increase in overdoses from heroin, fentanyl and other opiates, the effort is meant to move addicts into treatment rather than jail before they cause more harm to themselves, their families and the community.
“We do know what awaits us if we do nothing,” Police Chief Marc Montminy told the audience at police headquarters.
HOPE is a partnership between town police, Manchester Memorial Hospital, Community Health Resources and other organizations. Addicts who agree to seek treatment are to be taken directly to the hospital’s emergency room after surrendering any drugs or needles. If they are just users, and not dealers, Montminy has said, they will not be arrested.
When the chief first approached him about the idea, hospital emergency department head Dr. Robert Carroll said, his first thought was, “My gosh, we’re already overrun.” But the problem is so pressing, Carroll said at the press conference, that the hospital must help provide another avenue to recovery.
Fatal overdoses in the state involving heroin climbed from 174 in 2012 to a projected 488 this year, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Deaths involving fentanyl, which is upwards of 50 times stronger than heroin, rose from just 14 in 2012 to a projected 446 this year
Addicts’ chances for long-term success, Carroll said, improve every time they seek help, even after repeated relapses. At Manchester Memorial, staff will evaluate incoming addicts, determine their needs and provide a bed if necessary. Most people, however, can be treated as outpatients, either with methadone or suboxone, Dr. Nedson Campbell, an addiction treatment specialist at the hospital, has said.
After abusing painkillers for several years, Litrico, now 29, said he had started using heroin in 2011. At the time, he was working in his “dream job” as a paid firefighter. His father, Paul Litrico, and mother, Mary Beth Litrico, were chief and assistant chief in the Eighth Utilities District Fire Department.
Joe Litrico said he remembers standing in handcuffs as his father pulled into the fire station parking lot on that March day more than four years ago. Police have said they arrested the younger Litrico on narcotics possession charges after watching him buy suboxone outside the station while he was on duty.
But even after that, he said he could not resist a return to active drug use and he hit another low point late last year. He started calling treatment centers, Litrico said, but representatives at each place told him he had to wait a day, or several days, or a week. Desperate, he turned to his father, who had heard about Montminy’s plans for the HOPE initiative.
Montminy helped get him into treatment, Joe Litrico said, and he has been clean for about a year, with a new job and new prospects. He said he came to the press conference to support the HOPE Initiative. Getting addicts into treatment without delay, Litrico said, is key, and advocates of similar efforts across the nation agree.
HOPE is modeled on the Angel Initiative in Gloucester, Mass., which started in June 2015 with the idea that police could not arrest their way out of the rising heroin scourge. As in Manchester, officers in the seaside town have responded to overdose calls for the same person several times. Sometimes, on the third or fourth call in both towns, police have found a dead body.
Since the Angel Initiative was launched, police agencies across the country have adopted similar programs and about 200 have joined a partnership called the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (http://www.paariusa.org). PAARI Chairman John Rosenthal said at the Manchester press conference that 520 people have sought help from Gloucester police since the effort began. The number of overdoses has plummeted, and larceny and other crimes associated with drug abusers have dropped 30 percent, Rosenthal said.
Law enforcement leadership, he said, has been crucial in the ongoing effort.
“Police chiefs are our heroes,” Rosenthal said. ” It’s the voice of law enforcement that has changed everything.”
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