Oswego, New York is like many communities across the nation that struggle to find a solution to our ever-increasing opioid epidemic.  The reality is that opiate addiction strikes across age, ethnic and economic groups (Adams, 2018) and the community looks to the police for help in combating this issue even when the solution is not enforcement related.  Education, treatment, and intervention are roles that our police officers have had to take-on.  Working together with our community partners, the Oswego City Police Department has been intricately involved in providing a variety of tools to help us in our fight.

As an active participant in the Oswego County Drug Task Force the Oswego Police Department, in its more traditional law enforcement role, has teamed-up with other members of area law enforcement agencies as well as State and Federal entities to help identify drug dealers, investigate their activities, and take effective and efficient enforcement action as needed.  This is the type of involvement that has long since been our department’s response to illegal drug activity, but the community needs and deserves more.

The CDC recently reported that opiate addiction in now America’s fastest-growing drug problem with the total number of painkillers prescribed in a single year enough to medicate every adult living in the U.S. around the clock.  While true that heroin is the most widely used illegal opiate, it’s a fact that prescription opiate painkillers are equally dangerous and an insidious problem.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately two million people in the United States alone are addicted to prescription opiates (Adams, 2018).  In response, in 2012, the Oswego City Police Department installed drop boxes in the department’s lobby to accept unused or unwanted prescription medication and a separate receptacle to accept needles and other sharps.  These drop boxes are available to the public on a 24/7/365 basis with no questions asked with the goal of getting the unused or unwanted medication out of homes where it may end up being abused.

The most recent data shows that opiate addiction and painkiller addiction has resulted in over 53,000 overdose deaths annually (Adams, 2018).  The issue of equipping police with the naloxone is debatable among law enforcement leaders across the nation, however these are members of our community that are dying and we are frequently in a position where we can do something about it.  In 2012, members of the Oswego City Police Department were trained in the use of, and were issued, naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2017).  There have been several cases since the medication has been issued, in which it was administered by Oswego Police Officers in successful life-saving efforts.

Unfortunately, the opioid addiction problem does not just adversely impact adults, as the first use of opiates is starting at an earlier age. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that an estimated 52 million people, 20% of those aged 12 and older, have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once.  One in twelve high school seniors reported nonmedical use of the prescription drug Vicodin during the past year and about one in twenty high school seniors reported abusing OxyContin (Adams, 2018).  With this in mind, the Oswego Police Department has resurrected the DARE program in our area schools.  DARE had been pushed to the side over the years as budgets and time constrains made it more difficult to continue the program, however with the increasing issues related to opioid and other illegal drug use coupled with a new and improved curriculum, the DARE program is once again, beginning in September of 2017, made available through our local schools.  DARE’s new curriculum, “Keeping it Real” has been updated to teach students decision making for safe and healthy living (DARE America, 2017). 

The most recent addition to our community’s arsenal is the creation of the City of Oswego’s REAP Program.  REAP stands for Rapid Evaluation for Appropriate Placement and consists of several key components.  First, the REAP program offers a way for people to get help.  Traditional methods of treatment usually meant waiting for an opening, finding the appropriate program and more waiting. The REAP program teamed-up Oswego Police with Farnham Family Services which is a New York State licensed, private, not-for-profit organization that was established in 1971. It helps people with substance use and behavioral health disorders by providing high quality, recovery oriented and strengths-based outpatient treatment and prevention services that are available to all residents of Oswego and surrounding counties (Farnham Family Services). Citizens can present to the Oswego Police Department for immediate referral into the program which will assess and evaluate the patient to find an appropriate program. A second and equally important component of the program is the ability for citizens to bring any unused drugs or drug paraphernalia with them to the police department without risk or fear of being criminally charged as long as they are seeking inclusion in the REAP program.  Additionally, through a cooperative agreement the Oswego County District Attorney’s Office, we have offered a “no criminal charge” aspect for parents of teens who they suspect may be involved in illegal drugs if the seek the police department’s assistance in intervention and inclusion in the program. 

The Oswego City Police Department, and I as Chief, remain committed to furthering our partnerships as we continue to seek answers.  Recent efforts have been made to meet regularly with community stakeholders to help evaluate the current programs in place, seek new programs that may be on the horizon and to take a closer look at root causes associated with illegal drug use.  In today’s environment we can no longer use the phrase “it’s not an enforcement issue”.  The fact is, it’s everyone’s issue and we must work together as a community, as service providers, and as human beings to help bring an end to the needless deaths and destruction that these drugs bring to our friends, family and loved ones.

Adams, T. (2018). Opiate Addiction – The Painkiller Addiction Epidemic, Heroin Addiction and the Way Out, 6th Edition.
 DARE America (2017). Retrieved from 
National Institute on Drug Abuse, Advancing Addiction Science (2017). Retrieved from 
Farnham Family Services. Retrieved from 


About the Author:

Tory L. DeCaire is the Chief of Police in Oswego, NY which is a city in Central New York located on the shore of Lake Ontario with a population of about 18,000 people.  The full-service police department employs 47 sworn officers and provides police services on a 24/7/365 basis.

Chief DeCaire is a graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Public Justice.  Hired by the Oswego City Police Department as a Patrol Officer in 1998, he has 20 years of police experience with the last six of which as Chief of Police. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy Session #271.