Following an alarming spike in drug overdoses in Boston in recent years, Mayor Martin J. Walsh made his first major policy announcement Tuesday on the issue.
Speaking at the district police station in South Boston, a community hit hard by opiate addiction, Walsh announced a series of community workshops and called for all first responders to carry naloxone, a spray mist known widely by the trademark name Narcan, used to reverse opiate overdoses.
“Research has shown that making Narcan available does not encourage people to use opiates,” Walsh said. “It simply interrupts the course of their overdose. It saves lives.”
Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the city’s public health commission, said heroin overdoses increased 76 percent between 2010 and 2012. And prescription drug overdoses jumped 38 percent between 2009 and 2012, she said.
All EMTs and paramedics with Boston EMS carry naloxone — as of last week, the drug had been administered 52 times this year — but Walsh’s proposal would expand the program to police and firefighters.
In an effort to get naloxone to more people in need, the state passed a “Good Samaritan” law that offers protection from drug possession charges for people who call 911 if they are experiencing an overdose or witness someone who is.
“There are too many drugs out here,” Police Commissioner William Evans said. “There are bad batches of heroin. To have these tools in our cars, in our officers’ hands, is another excellent tool in combating overdose deaths.”
Evans, a lifelong South Boston resident, spoke of the effect that drugs have had on the neighborhood in recent years. “A lot of good families are being impacted by the use of Oxycontin and heroin,” Evans said. “And I always say, it doesn’t matter how good the parents are or what the upbringing is. These drugs are so dangerous that if a kid tries it once, then they are hooked.”
The Public Health Commission will host five community workshops in February in South Boston, East Boston, the South End, Dorchester, and Allston-Brighton. The events aim to provide residents with overdose prevention training, an overview of treatment options, information on how to access naloxone, and an opportunity to meet with the neighborhood substance abuse coalitions.