FALMOUTH — Last week, the people of Falmouth and millions of others in Maine and around the country read the tragic story of Falmouth resident David McCarthy, as told by Marc Fisher of The Washington Post in his feature, “Falmouth family suffers heroin’s tragic toll,” published online in the Portland Press Herald on July 27.

The reporting is factual, including the most distressing statistic: that there have been four heroin overdoses in Falmouth over the past 10 months, two of which were fatal.

David’s family and friends are enduring an unconscionable amount of pain – pain we can empathize with, although perhaps never truly comprehend. The McCarthys’ struggle belongs to all of us.

For me as chief of police, I’m sadly reminded that our work in fighting this drug problem is never enough to eliminate substance abuse and its aftermath. For me as a dad, I’m reminded that this could have been anyone’s child. My daughter, Audrey, now 29, graduated in the very same Falmouth High School class as David McCarthy.

The many hats I wear, including parent, community member and law enforcement officer, inform my perspective on heroin and all other forms of substance abuse.

Is Falmouth, as the article states, “a place now ravaged by heroin”? No, it is not. But that does not for a moment dilute how even a single overdose can weigh on a small town.

As the story accurately reports, heroin use has grown recently and significantly across Maine and the nation. Heroin is not new, but it is cheaper, more accessible and more dangerous than ever before. And, among illegal drugs, heroin occupies a particularly sinister place in the American psyche, making the article that much more shocking for most readers.

The article paints Falmouth in a passive light – that we’re being overtaken. We are not. I, as chief, will not let that happen.

In the 20 years I’ve been in this position, the Falmouth Police Department has worked closely with our schools, residents, neighboring communities and state and federal officials in an integrated approach to this problem.

We need to arrest dealers, interrupt supply and intervene with users before the unthinkable can happen. This is important and necessary work we do on a regular basis.

But people could assume that law enforcement is the only way to fight this battle. I believe it is just one approach.

It is impossible to rid the streets of all illicit drugs. We can’t ever arrest every person suspected of selling them. We can’t continue to incarcerate those unfortunately addicted to a drug that won’t let go.

The best solution is to approach the issue as a public health problem. This is what we do in Falmouth.

A great example is Casco Bay CAN, a coalition of parents, health care professionals, educators, businesses and law enforcement officers in Falmouth and five neighboring towns (Cumberland, Freeport, North Yarmouth, Pownal and Yarmouth), all of whom work to understand and promote drug- and alcohol-free youth development.

In September, Casco Bay CAN and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association are co-hosting a forum for town, school and law enforcement officials in the region. Drug Enforcement Administration representatives from Colorado – a state on the leading edge of drug issues – will share what they’ve learned to help us advance our efforts.

Another critical approach is education. Drug use often begins before adulthood, and heroin is no one’s first drug.

We work regularly with Falmouth’s school superintendent, Geoff Bruno, and his staff to develop and administer a number of anti-drug programs and curricula. Our incredibly dedicated school resource officer has served in Falmouth schools for over 20 years. All families and school staff benefit from his support and expertise.

Recently, we have allowed alcohol or marijuana first offenders to participate in an immersive substance abuse education program as an alternative to prosecution. This is good policy. Prevention and redirection help derail a lifetime of sorrow for themselves and their loved ones.

Falmouth is a small, strong community. We are compassionate and support each other in times of need. In these ways, we are no different from any town in the country.

Heroin use and other drug abuses happen here, too, and similarly, no one is immune. A spotlight is now shining on Falmouth, and I acknowledge that. I believe it is offering Falmouth a leadership position in this fight – one that I embrace.

There may be families for whom we won’t be able to do enough, but we will always do everything we can. Our primary objective will always be the safety and well-being of our community. We will continue to use our strength, as a community, to overcome these challenges.