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Calling Brockton the "epicenter of the heroin crisis in southeastern Massachusetts," the city's mayor, Bill Carpenter, is proposing tougher penalties for dealers caught trying to sell drugs within 300 feet of an addiction treatment center.
Carpenter spoke with WBUR Friday about his plans to combat drug addiction in Brockton.
Deborah Becker: Explain what you're seeing in Brockton in terms of what you're calling a heroin crisis.
Bill Carpenter: Since being sworn in as mayor on Jan. 6, we've had eight deaths due to overdose here in the city in a three-month period. So, I mean this is a regional problem, but I think certainly, you know, Brockton has paid a high price in the opiate heroin crisis.
Now we've heard a lot about dealers targeting say Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Obviously, it's their market. What are you seeing in Brockton? Are you actually seeing drug dealers targeting some of the city's addiction treatment centers?
Here in the city of Brockton, we have three hospitals, a large neighborhood health center, two methadone clinics, a detox and numerous outpatient counseling centers. And we also have a small independent alternative school, called Independence Academy, that services teenagers who are battling alcohol and drug addiction. So drug addiction is not a problem we're just going to arrest our way out of. We need to get people who are battling addiction into treatment. That's why just a couple weeks ago I was in Boston also lobbying for the establishment of a drug court at the Brockton district court, because I think that nonviolent offenders, who are identified as having an addiction, you know, need to get an opportunity to get into a drug court and get treatment rather than incarceration.
But I'm just wondering if you are seeing it as a real problem that dealers are in fact targeting these treatment centers.
Anecdotally, we have heard those stories through law enforcement people, yes. I mean obviously we have a lot of locations with 12 Step, AA and NA meetings, and yeah, no, we have heard of drug sales taking place in the immediate vicinity of drug treatment centers.
But I'm just wondering if you can't arrest your way out of the problem of drug addiction, aren't many of the dealers also dealing to be able to afford their drug habit? So, you know, aren't you just doing the same thing then? Just arresting and taking away judicial discretion for someone who might have a problem?
I've heard that argument, and I'm aware of it. But I do think there's a difference between
someone who's dealing drugs and someone who's using drugs. I'm sure that a certain percentage of the dealers are people that are also selling because they're addicted. But the fact of the matter is we're approaching this as needing to attack both the supply and the demand. And if you're selling drugs in Brockton, you're carrying an illegal gun in Brockton, we are going to arrest you. We're going to arrest you as many times as we have to.
Now, state law already has a mandatory minimum for selling drugs within 300 feet of a school or a playground. Would this be similar? Would that be just extended to addiction treatment centers as well?
It's really not an extension. But, I think that when Rep. [Claire] Cronin crafted this bill, I think that's the model she had in mind — the idea of a, kind of a safe zone, a safe passage, a buffer zone, so that someone can get dropped off or park at a place where they are seeking treatment without having to interact with a drug dealer who's trying to lure them back into a relapse between the bus stop or their car and the front door of the treatment center.
This segment aired on April 25, 2014.