Town commissioners have given their approval for the town and Swansboro Police Department to partner with other agencies in an effort to deal with drug overdoses in a rapid manner.

But the OK did not come without a board squabble.

Commissioner Brent Hatlestad – who did not oppose the plan itself – took issue with the way an advisory panel would be seated. And, when it came time to vote on the town entering a memorandum of understanding, Hatlestad chose to abstain.

Paula Webb, town clerk and interim manager, said that according to Swansboro Board of Commissioners policy, Hatlstad’s vote counted as a “yes.”

In a written presentation to the town board on June 25, Ken Jackson, chief of the Swansboro Police Department, said, “The Quick Response Team is designated to provide differential responses, to reduce the volume of heroin and opiate overdoses and/or overdose deaths in Onslow County and bridge the gap to addiction treatment and recovery services for individuals and their families.”

Other agencies involved in the MOU are Onslow County and the city of Jacksonville, according to Jackson’s memo to the board. The local governments have “a shared commitment to reduce harm associated with the use of opioids,” he said.

Jackson said the document presented for consideration to the town commissioners on June 25 had been scrutinized by Cliff Parson, town attorney.

On a question from the board, Jackson said a grant in the amount of $600,000 would facilitate the team.

“The county and Jacksonville applied for the grant funding,” Webb explained following the meeting. The funds would be provided over a three-year period.

This effort is different from the one in which the town and other local emergency services are currently involved.

For some time, Swansboro police officers have kept available the drug Narcan, which can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. The Quick Response Team will do more than just treat an overdose.

As approved, the agreement will implement and establish a standardized response to opioid overdoses by providing a specialized team trained to offer and deliver post-overdose interventions, according to Jackson’s memo. The aim is to reduce repeat overdoses and deaths by connecting individuals and families to treatment programs.

The QRT is to be staffed with specifically trained police, paramedic, mental health, social services and peer advocacy personnel appointed by the town manager or his or her designee.

It was this clause in the MOU that Hatlestad found objectionable. He made it clear that he wanted the commissioners to have the chance to review anyone appointed.

Hatlestad expressed frustration over what he said were the “same” people being appointed to serve. Also, the town has been without a regular manager since Scott Chase resigned in January. (See related story.)

Parson said the appointment process, as proposed, would be fall under the new manager – Chris Seaberg, currently Cedar Point town administrator – expected to be in place in September, according to Mayor John Davis, or by Webb, in her capacity as interim manager.

It was also pointed out that no matter who was in the role of manager, the appointment process would likely be turned over to Jackson or another member of the town’s emergency services staff.

Hatlestad said that he would insist on the board being involved in the selection process or he would not support approval of the MOU.

“We have a problem with collaboration,” he said.

Commissioner Frank Tursi indicated the town’s draft of the MOU should be left as is.

“We hire professionals,” Tursi said. “Let’s not get in their way.”

Davis reminded the board of previous committee appointments in which he and one or two other individuals chose the members. He suggested the same format could be put in place for the Quick Response Team.

Parson was cautious in his response, “I’m comfortable with the language as written,” he said.

Following the meeting, Webb said the team members would be professionals.

“It’s not necessarily the police officer,” she explained of the person who might be appointed to the QRT. “It’s got to be somebody with training … people who are certified.”

The team would respond to referrals received from law enforcement, emergency medical services, Onslow Memorial Hospital, the county health department and other community based agencies, and evaluated by the community paramedic harm reduction team.

QRT response will be attempted within 72 hours in order to offer intervention and treatment options.

“Police officers are provided the discretion, through their position to enforce the laws set forth in North Carolina statutes, as it relates to criminal behavior associated with drug use or possession of drugs/paraphernalia,” according to the memorandum.

The memorandum goes on to list various rules and regulations – such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA – as well as policies to which each party is expected to adhere.

Webb said the Swansboro version of the MOU, as approved by the commissioners on June 25, has been submitted to the other partners for scrutiny.

The memorandum includes the following statement: “The town of Swansboro, the city of Jacksonville, and the county of Onslow agree that their mutual interests will be furthered by continued coordination between the city of Jacksonville, the county of Onslow, and town of Swansboro.”

 For more on this story, purchase a copy of the July 3, 2019, Tideland News.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

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