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TALLMADGE -- "On average, one Tallmadge resident overdoses on opiates per week," according to Police Chief Ron Williams. Last year there were six opiate overdose deaths in the city.
To address this trend, Williams says the city has decided to take it personally -- by forming a Quick Response Team. Comprised of a police officer, a paramedic and a social worker, the QRT visits those who have overdosed on drugs to offer tools toward sobriety and treatment.
Tallmadge's QRT is modeled on the one developed by Colerain Township. The Tallmadge team makes its rounds on Thursdays. Police Captain Frank DiMenna and Deputy Fire Chief Ben Stasik, along with a counselor from Oriana House, visit Tallmadge residents who've overdosed during the previous week. The bulk of the city's overdose calls stem from opiate use -- specifically heroin and fentanyl, according to the police captain.
DiMenna says the two residents the team has visited to date are as diverse as the problem itself: one was male and the other, female; one was in their 20s, while the other was in their 50s. While neither knew the QRT was coming in advance, both were receptive, according to DiMenna.
"They were very surprised," he says, adding, "You could really tell that they were glad to see us. The counselor (Jim Blake) did a great job, really wonderful job, communicating with them both. From my standpoint it seemed as if both of these folks were both relieved and grateful that someone wanted to take time to sit down and speak with them about how they could get help."
The approach is intended to open a dialogue on the growing problem of opiate abuse, Williams says, stressing, "This is a too large of a problem to arrest our way out of." The police chief acknowledges those who've become addicted to drugs have generally developed a negative relationship with police officers. "Measures such as QRT and the Good Samaritan Law are our way of pitching in to help," Williams says.
The Good Samaritan Law, which went into effect last year, exempts certain people from prosecution in specific circumstances -- for example, those who call the police to report an overdose. The idea is to encourage addicts to get help when they need it, the police chief says.
The Tallmadge Quick Response Team only follows up with Tallmadge residents, but it would handle referrals from other QRTs should a Tallmadge resident overdose in another community.
Stasik says he volunteered "because the opiate addiction crisis has had a significant impact on our region. I knew the start of this program in our city would be impactful to those individuals without resources to cope with addiction "
"I feel that this team bridges an identified gap in the recovery process," DiMenna said.
Stephanie Laughlin, a Tallmadge police detective who handles narcotics-related cases, says she's seen the rise of the "nontraditional addict," someone who starts taking pain medication after suffering an injury and eventually turns to street dealers to obtain more.
Becky, a Tallmadge mother who lost her youngest daughter to addiction on May 31, 2016, says she supports the intervention team visits. "We have a little bit of, 'Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' going on in Tallmadge," Becky has said, "but addicts are quite literally the boy or girl next door. We have to acknowledge that before we can begin to address the problem."
"I believe this (the QRT) is a very proactive approach," Becky told the Tallmadge Express Feb. 23, "which may give the person a sense that their community is invested in their treatment and help the response team have a better idea of who they are treating," Becky says.
There is hope, Becky added, noting her older daughter recently marked 28-months clean from drugs.
Twitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC