Safety and security of fishermen
FAIRHAVEN – On a sunny Friday morning, Deb Kelsey drove to the Fairhaven Police Department with a box of Narcan, the anti-overdose drug, in the trunk of her car. Inside, she met Sgt. Michael Bouvier and Peter Lagasse, a certified alcohol and drug counselor, to discuss the homes they would visit that day.
The three are part of the Fairhaven Opioid Crisis Task Force. Within six weeks of a medical incident, sometimes an overdose, they make home visits and let community members know about the various resources available to help them. They also offer Narcan packs.
Bouvier went through his notes from previous meetings and recent incident logs. As she named people and addresses, Kelsey made notes in her notebook. They remembered if the person was home the last time, who opened the door, and if they were willing to help.
Once the list was finalized, the three hopped into a van led by Kelsey and headed for the first house.
‘A bridge builder’
Kelsey, a 54-year-old New Bedford native, works as a “navigator” for Fishing Partnership Support Services, a non-profit organization with four locations in Massachusetts, including New Bedford. As a certified recovery coach and community health worker, she registers fishermen for health insurance, connects them with recovery resources for substance use disorders, walks the docks to brief captains of training opportunities and doing home visits with police and local pastors.
“I like to think of myself as a bridge builder,” she says.
Kelsey previously worked in commercial printing and found her current job by chance when an acquaintance informed her of a part-time job opportunity.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘How lucky would I be to be able to defend my own family and all the fishing families who were my friends? Said Kelsey, who was previously married to a commercial fisherman. “It would be the best job in the world, because you know what they say, the charity starts at home.”
Kelsey said there is often at least one person on her community outreach list who works or has a connection with the fishing industry, and that is only for Fairhaven. She also works with the Greater New Bedford Opioid Task Force.
Opioid use in the New Bedford fishing community
Due to the physical nature of the work and the long hours, fishermen are high risk for work-related injuries; prescribing opioids to treat the pain resulting from these injuries puts fishermen at increased risk for developing a substance use disorder.
A 2018 study between Fishing Partnership and UMass Lowell, of which Kelsey is an author, found that some workers in the fishing industry arrange to receive pain relievers (legal and illegal) before fishing trips in order to function properly.
“Sometimes you need a little puff or a little sniff to get through the day, whatever it takes to get through the day, to make money,” said an anonymous person interviewed for the report. .
According to the study, only 59% of crew members in the Northeastern fisheries reported having health insurance coverage, which may affect access to treatment for substance use disorders.
New Bedford recorded more than 330 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths between 2015 and 2019, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. There has been a decrease in the city for 2020, however.
2019:Region receives $ 1.8 million grant to fight opioids
One moment that has stayed with Kelsey concerns an overdose aboard a ship about four to five years ago. A few months before this happened, she held a training session with the ship’s captain, who she said was initially hesitant.
“He didn’t really believe in the need to supply Narcan. It was thoughts like, ‘I don’t allow guys to take drugs on my boat,'” she said. “And it was just a matter of educating, saying, ‘Did you know it can take up to three hours for an overdose to happen?’ So you could have steamed out for two hours, they didn’t do anything on your boat, but now they’re overdosing. “
She said the captain called her months after training to tell her he had used the Narcan to revive an unresponsive crew member in his cabin. She said after the incident the captain wanted to have maps printed to show his crew how to assemble the Narcan in stages.
“It was just about educating and reducing the stigma and reminding these guys that they are the first responders at sea… they could save a life,” she said.
Previously, U.S. Coast Guard units were not allowed to carry Narcan, which made having life-saving drugs on board fishing vessels more critical, Kelsey explained.
After:Authorities are pushing for Narcan apart from first aid kits on fishing vessels
Mario Gonsalves, a fishing captain from New Bedford, met Kelsey about five years ago when she went down to the docks to promote safety training sessions for captains and crews. He said people were skeptical because “everyone thinks they know what they’re doing” and that it was something new.
Gonsalves, 52, sent his crew for training in first aid, flares, rafts and survival suits, and then Kelsey brought aboard to teach the Narcan administration.
His boat has another captain and another crew, with each rotary voyage, and he said it was his fellow captain who overdosed the crew member on the ship. Gonsalves credited Kelsey’s training with the captain’s ability to save a life.
Gonsalves said she also helped many of her crew get health insurance or get help with substance use disorder. A crew member came to see him just a few weeks ago with an issue with illegal drug use and Kelsey was able to enroll him in health insurance so he could receive treatment, he said. .
“She does a very good service to the community, especially on my boat. Anytime I need to talk to someone, I call them,” said Gonsalves.
He does bi-weekly drug tests with his crew and said that while Kelsey wasn’t able to find support services for his crew regarding substance use, he didn’t know s ‘he would be able to help them.
“It would suck without her,” he says.
Bouvier, who has known Kelsey for a few years, said she was critical to the success they had with the Fairhaven task force.
He recalls an outreach effort with a fisherman who had suffered numerous overdoses and was reluctant to talk to anyone or get help. When they got home, Bouvier said only the fisherman’s mother was there, so they gave her Narcan which she eventually had to use on her son.
As far as he knows, this fisherman is still alive today and if he hasn’t already sought treatment, there may be a time when he will, Bouvier said.
“You could have the toughest, toughest person and somehow they’re going to find an angle to at least be able to have a conversation with them,” he said.
Lagasse, who works for Seven Hills Behavioral Health as a community health educator, noted that it was difficult to gain the trust of people on the waterfront, in part because of the stigma, but he called Kelsey the “key” that unlocks the door and introduces her to industry workers.
‘We have to take care of each other’
Most of Friday’s home visits were handled by relatives, friends, or not at all. After going through their list, the trio decided to do more outreach and headed toLinberg Marine, where they met Atlantic Capes Fisheries Fleet Manager Kevin Krauss. Kelsey had already given him Narcan, but the packages had expired.
During their conversation, Krauss requested that his five captains be trained to carry Narcan on board, which Kelsey called “awesome.”
“It’s part of our mission,” she said. “The more ships that carry Narcan, the more common it becomes. It’s just part of your first aid kit.”
Kelsey said the interaction was a huge success that made her feel both fulfilled and uplifted. In the coming weeks, she will return to train the captains, either in one go or in several visits.
She said attitude towards substance use disorders has improved a bit on the waterfront, but she believes there is still work to be done to break down the stigma and improve access to health care.
Even when she’s not at work, her industry advocacy work continues through conversations with her friends and partner (who is a commercial lobster fisherman) and as a volunteer at New Bedford Fishing Heritage. Center.
“All I want to do is raise awareness, bring opportunity… take this information, tell your kids, tell your wives, tell your friends,” Kelsey said. “We are a community. We have to take care of each other.”
This is the second story in a series highlighting the roles women play in SouthCoast’s fisheries – be it harvesting, processing, research, support services or advocacy. If there’s a woman you’d like to see highlighted, email reporter Anastasia E. Lennon at [email protected] Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.