NEW BEDFORD - Staggering totals as New Bedford Police release the number of opioid overdose calls they responded to in 2016. Last year, police reported a total of 679 overdoses, with 42 deaths resulting. That's nearly twice the amount of overdoses in 2015, when police responded to 389 overdoses with 25 deaths.

New Bedford Police have also filed 26 charges of operating under the influence of drugs in 2016. Prior to last year, police were not seeking charges against drivers who were high on opioids, opting to help them seek treatment, instead.

Carl Alves, director of PAACA, offered reasons as to the significant climb in opioid overdoses, telling WBSM News tighter regulations in doctor's offices and the pharmaceutical industry are pushing people with addictions to prescription painkillers to seek alternatives. "2016 was the first year that opioid prescriptions went down. So, we're seeing some positive trends there. However, more people are turning to the street drugs, unfortunately because they probably have dependencies to the prescription drugs and can no longer get them," explained Alves.

Alves says greater accessibility to Narcan is not to blame for the rise in overdoses, since addicts have been abusing drugs since before the overdose-reversing drug was available.

Alves calls for stronger community-based programs in leading addicts to treatment. Currently, New Bedford Police, accompanied by a chaplain and a treatment center representative make home visits to people that have overdosed, encouraging them to seek help. Alves says forcing people to seek treatment against their will is the wrong answer, saying addicts have to want help in order for treatment to be effective.

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