DARTMOUTH — U.S. Rep. Bill Keating advocated for measures to reduce drug overdose deaths during a forum on addiction on Friday.

The congressman’s event at UMass Dartmouth brought together local treatment providers, law enforcement, and other stakeholders on the front lines of the crisis to discuss ways to stem an unprecedented wave of deadly drug overdoses.

“Are we going to try and save lives, or not act and let people die?” Keating asked the dozens of attendees.

More than 541 people in New Bedford have died of accidental drug overdoses since 2015, a recent New Bedford Light analysis of death certificates found. Fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid, played a role in the vast majority of the deaths.

In an interview with The Light, Keating said he supports overdose prevention sites, also known as supervised consumption sites or safe injection sites, where people can safely consume illicit drugs under medical supervision. They save lives, he said.

The sites are controversial — the New Bedford City Council unanimously voted to oppose them in 2019. Critics say they only enable drug use, but Keating said that’s a “ridiculous” myth.

Asked which other harm reduction measures he supports, Keating said “all of the above.”

Speakers at the forum advocated for programs to increase access to sterile needles and make the overdose-reversing drug naloxone more widely available.

They highlighted existing law enforcement programs that take a non-punitive approach with drug users. New Bedford Police Chief Paul Oliveira spoke about the success of his department’s longstanding partnerships with treatment providers and faith leaders, who join plainclothes officers on follow-up visits with overdose survivors.

“We need to get to people before their next overdose,” said Connie Rocha-Mimoso, a program director for Seven Hills Behavioral Health, an addiction treatment provider that works with the department.

Forum on Substance Addiction and Harm Reduction hosted at UMass Dartmouth. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / The New Bedford Light

The department also has a program that diverts low-level drug offenders away from the criminal justice system and into treatment.

There’s still more work to be done, speakers acknowledged, as people continue to die of overdoses. Keating said he hoped the event would help local leaders share information and learn from each other’s successes.

“I’ll leave here and next week be back in D.C. fighting for some of these things,” he said.

But getting federal support for these programs is a challenge, he said. While he knows other members of Congress who share his views, there’s not enough support on the Appropriations Committee for the non-punitive approaches he’s advocating.

“None of these deaths from overdoses should be happening in our country,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, who gave a presentation on recent addiction research.

It’s not enough to just push people into treatment, Volkow said. Harm reduction practices like overdose prevention sites, clean needle programs, and widespread availability of naloxone prevent people from dying before they can get to treatment, she said.

“We’re gaining time so they have a chance,” she said. “We need to keep them alive.”

Email Grace Ferguson at gferguson@newbedfordlight.org

Join the Conversation


  1. With all due respect, safe injection site for leadership purposes is a cowards way out. They promote addiction, criminal activity to support those soul eating habits. They keep fathers and mothers from real treatment. Real leaders recognize that those places have more cons than pros. The fact that you say it saves lives a twisted statistic that is spun to in order to cover up the inept leadership to take on the problem on its merits

  2. U.S. Rep. Bill Keating a Democrat has been in office since 2013. Now in 2023, he advocated for measures to reduce drug overdose deaths. In fiscal year 2022, 84% of the 14,104 pounds of fentanyl was seized along the Mexican border. Close the border.

  3. Are we supplying the heroin to the user to assure it doesn’t have fentanyl in it? If not, how can you guarantee their safe ride? So, we want to prevent people dying from an overdose by making sure we are there to keep them alive so they can suffer a slow death over time. Any chance they can do this with alcohol? The IPA’s are getting way to expensive lately but if I could find a place where they were free I might drink everyday!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *