ATTLEBORO - Deaths from opioid overdoses in Massachusetts have nearly quadrupled from 532 in 2010, to an estimated 1,979, last year.
But while there are no immediate cures for the scourge of heroin and other dangerous drugs, communities in southeastern Massachusetts are fielding an increasing number of weapons to curb the use of illegal drugs and the harm they bring.
Some, say public health advocates at a substance abuse summit at Bridgewater State University's Attleboro campus Monday, appear to be showing results.
Representatives from anti-drug coalitions in the Attleboro, Taunton and Brockton areas said partnerships joining police, local governments, educational institutions and clinicians are having an impact in providing services to addicts, delivering drug education and follow-up care.
In Attleboro, overdose deaths appear to be leveling off after police switched to trying to help addicts break the heroin habit from their traditional approach of arresting them.
Sgt. Steven Beaudet, commander of the police department's Problem Oriented Policing Unit, said the unit was charged four years ago with getting to the root cause of the city's increasing overdose statistics. What they found was that many of the victims were overdosing, again and again.
Rather than throwing the addicts in jail, POP officers visited with them and their families, found rehab programs and even drove some of them to therapy.
Police also forged alliances with the fire department, public health officials, counselors and experts in drug treatment. While overdoses remain a problem, the estimated number of fatalities declined by 3.5 percent in 2016 compared with the previous year, Beaudet said.
Attleboro Police Chief Kyle Heagney said drug overdoses and other urban problems require a new approach from police other than simply responding to calls and carting someone off to jail.
"We don't just respond anymore," he said. "We need to be there to deal with the long-term problems that plague our communities."
Monday's summit, which placed an emphasis on coalitions to fight opiate addiction, also featured presentations from a number of action groups and local government efforts to stem addiction.
Anne Bisson, director of the Taunton Human Services Office, said following a spade of widely publicized opiate deaths in that city, Mayor Thomas Hoye created a citywide partnership designed to focus multiple resources on the battle against drugs.
The Taunton coalition, with more than 150 members, has helped to bring attention to the city's struggle with opiates that now includes regular drug take-backs, home visits to counsel addicts and educational programs to warn of the dangers associated with drugs.