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Number of ODs doesn’t warrant Safe Stations program in Portsmouth, says fire chief

Union Leader Correspondent

February 06. 2018 3:03PM
Portsmouth will not establish the Safe Stations program at its fire stations, Fire Chief Achilles hief told councilors he does not see the need at this time. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH - Portsmouth will not establish Safe Stations after the fire chief reported to the city council he does not believe it is time to implement such a program.

Fire Chief Steve E. Achilles said Monday that if overdose rates were to rise rapidly the department would take action.

On average, Portsmouth gets 30 to 40 calls for overdoses per year. Five to ten of those overdoses are fatalities, according to Achilles.

Manchester and Nashua run Safe Stations at their firehouses, offering help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to drug users. Thousands of people have taken advantage of the programs.

Manchester's Emergency Management Services recorded 863 overdoses last year. 66 of those overdoses were fatal, according to officials.

During a Portsmouth City Council meeting Jan. 16, Councilor Josh Denton asked the fire commission and chief to report back on a potential Safe Station model within 60 days.

On Jan. 29, Chief Achilles sent a memo addressed to Mayor Jack Blalock opposing the program, for now.

“After careful consideration, it is my opinion that at this time the city and fire department should not implement a Safe Station program,” Achilles wrote. “The current services delivered by the fire and police departments, along with other key community resources, such as Safe Harbor Recovery Center, provide what I believe as appropriate and safe opportunities for those seeking treatment or recovery.”

Achilles said anyone experiencing a medical event can go to one of the city's three fire stations for help and be transported to the hospital if necessary.

Fire Commissioner Dickie Gamester agreed and said there is not the same demand in Portsmouth as there is in other communities.

“Manchester is a bigger city, with bigger problems,” Gamester said Friday.

On Tuesday, Denton said instead of pursuing the Safe Station option, members of the city council plan to hold a work session with Safe Harbor Recovery Center to help get information out about the services they provide.

“We are not going forward at this time. I gauged the council's support for it and the preference seemed to be towards helping get the word out on the current resources available,” Denton said.

According to the most recent projections by the state Medical Examiner's office, 485 people died of drug overdoses in 2017.

In 2012, the number of fatal overdoses was 163.

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