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Safe Station founder pushes back over questioning of program's effectiveness

Staff Report
March 18. 2017 8:59PM
An elected official's questioning of statistics touting the success of Safe Station ruffled the feathers of founder Chris Hickey, who fired back Friday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - An elected official's questioning of statistics touting the success of Safe Station ruffled the feathers of founder Chris Hickey, who fired back Friday.

"If people are going to be critical to the point where they call me out personally on this to people that are in charge of other departments and other similar programs that used us as a starting point, then perhaps we should just deem this a failure and close up shop," he wrote in an email to about 45 people, including the media.

Hickey, the EMS officer for the Manchester Fire Department, would not identify the individual, although several people familiar with the conversation said it was At-Large Alderman Dan O'Neil, who questioned the effectiveness of the Safe Station program, which has been lauded at the local, state and national levels. O'Neil did not return calls for comment.

The criticism came after Nashua and Manchester officials met in Nashua on March 10 concerning the Safe Station programs in both cities.

Hickey, named the Union Leader Citizen of the Year, said an "individual" questioned "the validity of Manchester's statistics." 

Alderman Bill Barry, who attended the session, said Hickey made a presentation in which he said the program had a 60 percent success rate. Mayor Ted Gatsas pointed out that the national statistic for drug rehabilitation had a success rate of 20 percent over two years.

Barry said after the meeting that he checked with Serenity Place and learned that the 60 percent success rate Hickey referenced was for a four-month period, from September 2016 to December 2016 when individuals have received treatment and referred to various programs, including methadone or Suboxone clinics.

However, the success rates cited are for different measurements since one is for long-term recovery and the other concerns treatment access.

Fire Chief Dan Goonan said the 60 percent rate referred to the percentage of people accessing appropriate treatment "which is very different from long-term recovery."

September, he said, was when Serenity Place took over and brought Safe Station access to clinicians to properly assess clients and get them to the most appropriate level of treatment.

Goonan said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says, on average, it takes people four to eight times in and out of treatment before they find long- term recovery.

The Safe Station program only has been operating for 10 months and Fire Chief Dan Goonan said, "Measuring outcomes is certainly a moving target and the disease of addiction is quite complex."

Goonan, however, said the "information is valid and as accurate as possible. One statistic I know is certain, Safe Station is giving those afflicted with the disease of addiction access to treatment 100 percent of the time."

Hickey's email also included the latest statistics on opiate overdoses and deaths in Manchester, which for the past 2 1/2 months have decreased.

In March 2016, there were 102 overdoses in the city and 11 deaths. So far this March, there have been 38 overdoses and four deaths where opiates were suspected as the cause.

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