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Amid overdose spike, grieving father speaks at opioid town meeting

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — In this South Coast city last year, 469 people showed up at St. Luke’s hospital’s emergency room while overdosing on opiates. 46 died.

Two months ago, 20-year-old Emmett Scannell became part of the ever-growing list of Americans succumbing to overdoses. The Worcester State University sophomore died of a heroin overdose in a grocery store parking lot. His father, Bridgewater attorney William Scannell, spoke at a New Bedford town meeting about the opioid crisis Wednesday night.

“At the time he died, he had a 4.0 GPA,” Scannell said. “He was a good kid.”

Scannell described Emmett’s short life, one in which he was never arrested and scored a full scholarship to college, despite an earlier high school expulsion due to marijuana use.

He told us about the last time he saw his son in person.

“I whispered in his ear and said ‘please don’t shoot dope….just finish finals, and I love you,'” Scannell said. “He pulled back, looked me right in the eye and said ‘I love you, I promise I won’t Dad, I love you.’ He was dead 11 days later.”

Scannell shared his family’s tragedy at a town hall meeting organized by a local group called “Physicians to Prevent Opioid Abuse.” About 300 people showed up to hear from a panel of doctors, police, and community members dealing with this crisis.

Dr. Craig Longo is an emergency room physician at St. Luke’s, and described what it’s like to be on the front lines of the epidemic.

“Not only do we see the overdoses, we see the aftermath,” he said. “We see the people we’re able to save…the people we’re not able to save.”

He said St. Luke’s has seen a steady uptick of overdoses since he joined the hospital’s team seven years ago.

“New Bedford is struggling,” he said, adding that the majority of America is dealing with this crisis, too. “Like most places, we need more money for mental health. We need more money for detox. We need longer detox.”

William Scannell said his son’s insurance policy only covered seven days of treatment. He wants to see changes to that system, changes in education and changes in the way people sometimes stigmatize substance abuse.

“People don’t want to talk about,” he said. “They want to keep it in the shadows.”

Scannell has started an organization to raise awareness for substance use disorder called HOPESforever.org.