Hundreds of community members attended a unique town hall-style meeting to discuss opioid abuse and addiction on the Southcoast Wednesday evening at the Zeiterion Theater. 

The event was hosted jointly by local groups of healthcare professionals, Physicians to Prevent Opioid Abuse (PPOA) and Nurses to Prevent Opioid Abuse.

Multiple topics were presented by physicians, nurses, social workers and those who have been personally touched by addiction.

Nick Correira, a recovering addict who has been sober for over three years, made sure to remind those in the audience that nobody ever believes addiction will happen to them and not to stigmatize addicts.

"When someone's a child, they don't want to grow up to be a drug addict," Correira said. "No one wants to grow up and be an alcoholic. No one wants to grow up and have to be a panhandler that has a sign that says 'I'm homeless and I need money.' I can promise you that."

Other physicians pointed out the differences between the way addicts think, especially when seeking out their high. Pam Opheim-Newhall, social services team leader at St. Luke's Hospital, explained priorities are turned upside down during "euphoric recall" where addicts "just remember the first twenty seconds of their high rather than the pain of withdrawal and the consequences they experience."

From a law enforcement perspective, New Bedford Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro said his focus is not to criminalize the addicts but to go after the mid- and high-level drug dealers. The chief also spoke about the importance of education and prevention early on.

"We need to get ahead of this. For those in the crisis now and, more importantly, those who have not jumped in the river yet: the youth and those that are not addicts yet," Cordeiro said. "We gotta get them before they jump in."

Following the presentations, the floor was opened up to audience members to ask the panel questions about what can be done next to move toward a solution. Many spoke about the need for more beds in treatment centers and the possible benefits of medical marijuana to help treat and prevent addiction.

Michael Rocha, cardiologist at Hawthorn Medical and co-founder of PPOA, closed the program with the plans of using the group to establish a model for other communities to utilize and build upon.

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