NEW BEDFORD — A new program to combat the opioid epidemic on the SouthCoast has been announced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Special agents with the DEA, state officials, and representatives of local law enforcement discussed the DEA 360 Degree Strategy at the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford Thursday morning. The program began in 2015 and has been put into effect in New Jersey and New Hampshire.

DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge Jon DeLana says DEA 360 is a national initiative already successful in many cities across the country, including an ongoing effort in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“We now turn our focus to the south coast,” DeLana said.

The DEA 360 Strategy uses a three-fold approach to fight drug trafficking and stem drug abuse. The program will utilize enforcement actions, diversion control and community outreach.

“First, the primary role of the DEA is law enforcement. We investigate and dismantle the most complex and violent drug trafficking organizations from around the world. DEA enforcement activities, which are conducted alongside our outstanding local and state law enforcement partners, are directed at violent drug trafficking organizations and gangs that are contributing to the drug epidemic in the south coast region,” said DeLana.

“The DEA focuses its attention on the distribution networks that are putting this deadly poison on our streets and stealing away our children, friends and neighbors.”

Diversion control will be utilized by engaging drug manufacturers, wholesalers, practitioners and pharmacists increase awareness of abuse and push for responsible prescribing; and community outreach by partnering with medical professionals, governmental and community service organizations to provide the public with drug awareness education.

“The DEA is both a law enforcement and a regulatory agency. We have over 1.8 million registrants, which includes medical practioners, pharmacies and hospitals who prescribe and dispense prescription medication. We will continue to engage and partner with the medical community,” DeLana continued.

Finally, the program’s community outreach portion includes stopping the deadly cycle of prescription opioid misuse and heroin abuse by dismantling the drug trafficking organizations and gangs fueling violence on the streets and addiction in communities. The strategy includes partnerships with healthcare professionals, social service organizations and government service agencies that are best positioned to provide long-term help and support to effectuate drug-free communities.

The DEA says in the short term, its goal is to provide as much information as possible to young people. Officials will form a “Community Alliance” that will comprise key leaders from law enforcement, prevention, treatment, the judicial system, education, social services, business, government and civic organizations to form a long-term group that will help deliver prevention and treatment messages to the community after the DEA 360 Program concludes.

“Combatting fentanyl and heroin distribution and providing the appropriate education, prevention and treatment is a top priority for all of us. We all have the same goal, and that is to save lives. DEA 360 is national initiative that has already been successful in many major U.S. cities, including an ongoing effort in Manchester, New Hampshire that I am personally involved with,” DeLana said.

“However, the 360 Degree Strategy recognizes that law enforcement alone is not enough to effectuate sustained community change.”

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