Manchester overdoses down, number seeking help up after new program starts
Manchester officials said Tuesday that since a new program began to offer help to people struggling with addiction, overdoses have declined for the first time in months.
Operation Safe Haven allows people seeking help to go to any fire station in the city and quickly be linked to resources to help them.
Manchester firefighters have responded to 25 overdose calls so far in May, and 30 people have walked into fire stations seeking help.
“I was like, ‘OK. I’m going to try this,'” said Cole, 24, who sought help at a fire station last week.
Cole said he had made a decision to change his life, and he started by walking into a truck bay at the station.
“They brought me in, sat me down, asked me if I needed anything,” Cole said, admitting that he was nervous.
But within seconds, the nerves were gone.
“They didn’t discriminate because I was a drug addict,” he said. “They just wanted to make sure I was comfortable, and they made me feel comfortable and put me toward recovery.”
After a medical evaluation and a cup of coffee, firefighters called Hope for NH Recovery. In less than an hour, Cole was surrounded by others fighting the same fight. He had taken the first step.
“It’s just another access point to get someone to hope, and then they can get them to us to help them get clinical services or help them actually get anywhere,” said Stephanie Bergeron of Serenity Place.
It’s too early to call it a trend, but officials said overdoses in Manchester are down by one-third since the beginning of May compared to this time last month.
Safe Station organizer Chris Hickey said that more people have come in this month asking for help than those who have overdosed and needed the help.
“Three of those overdoses since the first of the month have actually been three of the people who have come into the program a couple days later,” Hickey said.
But of all the places to seek help, why the fire department?
“They’re not afraid of anything, straight up,” Cole said.
And in this case, the respect goes both ways.
“We admire them,” Hickey said. “The hardest first step is to admit you need help and stick with it.”
Cole said he feels different about this attempt to recover from addiction.
“I’ve relapsed a couple times, but this last time, I honestly have a clear head on my shoulders,” he said. “I know what I want to do in life.”
He said he wants to help people who are in the same situation he’s in.
Mayor Ted Gatsas has called Operation Safe Haven a model program for the state and the country.