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Nearly $200K approved to alleviate Methuen mental health crisis

Eagle-Tribune - 1/22/2024

Jan. 22—METHUEN — There is a national shortage of emergency medical technicians, but Methuen is looking to add to its first responders to assist with the mental health and addiction crises.

"Nationwide, it's gotten worse," said Chief Tim Sheehy. "We can keep up, but barely."

The Methuen City Council endorsed four resolutions using the Opioid Settlement Stabilization Fund with hope of allaying the mental health crisis within the city.

The council approved $60,000 to help pay for two patrol officers, $60,000 for two emergency medical technicians, $25,000 to support the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project and $50,000 to expand substance abuse and mental health services of the city's health and human services department.

Sheehy came before the council last year looking for four new EMTs, but he said the additional two now will be a good start. Methuen has three ambulances, but the third is not always fully staffed, Sheehy said.

"This is a crisis from an emergency standpoint for public safety," said City Councilor Nick DiZoglio, who suggested the council also approve a third position for the fire department using free cash.

The two new police officers are also to grow the force. A few years ago, Chief Scott McNamara proposed an increase in officers for the department. At the time, he said the MPD had about 90 officers. At full capacity, the department needs 106 officers "in order to properly service the citizens of Methuen," McNamara said.

The average police department throughout the country, and more specifically in New England, has two police officers per 1,000 residents, according to McNamara.

"We're at a point now where we have built our capacity from 90 to 98," McNamara said. "We were scheduled to make that last jump last July 1 but as you may recall we hit the pause button back then because we did have a significant jump in our budget as a result of settling essentially seven years of past contracts."

The two new officers will help with the efforts of the drug task force, the mayor said.

"These are two additions to allow us to take two patrol officers and put them on the drug task force," Mayor Neil Perry said. "Two officers will be added to the drug task force, where we have very minimal coverage."

Each of these resolutions were ideas proposed by the city's mental health task force.

The city already has received $370,994.44 in opioid funds, according to Perry. Through the 2039 fiscal year, the city will receive somewhere between $68,000 and $94,000 each year.

Perry said the city would look for a grant to cover the expenses approved Tuesday in the future or it would need to be approved as regular budget expenses.

Not every action from the mental health task force was on the agenda Tuesday night, according to Perry. He noted the number of overdoses across the city are "escalating." He is looking into selecting a company for expanded virtual, mental health care for residents.

"We have several remaining," Perry said. "All of these are necessary if we're going to get a handle on this."

Follow Monica on Twitter at @MonicaSager3

Follow Monica on Twitter at @MonicaSager3

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