The Duluth Police Department has added another resource in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Jessica McCarthy started Tuesday as the department’s first opioid technician, a role that will help respond to overdose victims, provide chemical dependency referrals and develop and coordinate outreach and training.

Opioid overdoses - many involving illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl and prescription painkillers like Vicodin - have risen dramatically in recent decades in St. Louis County and around the country.

The Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, headed by the Duluth Police Department, said its goal is “to not only apprehend opioid-related offenses but to save the lives of those who have become addicted and to educate the community about the dangers of opioid use and the downward spiral of addiction,” according to a news release Thursday.

McCarthy - who Police Chief Mike Tusken says will “allow us to have a dedicated resource who can meet people where they are at and together explore treatment options to return them to health” -  was brought on through a grant.

"I have been sober going on 8 years,” McCarthy said in the release. “This position and program is an excellent opportunity to reflect the human aspect of addiction and drug use into policing. Hopefully this will work to change the stigma surrounding addiction and shine light on the fact that people overdosing in our community are in need of systems changes, not to be stigmatized as less-than citizens.”