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Area communities plan team effort against opiate abuse

As area cities and towns struggle to stem the tide of rising opiate addiction, the state is providing fresh resources for them to join forces in the effort.

Brockton and Quincy were both recently awarded $300,000 grants to lead regional coalitions in the fight against opiate abuse, including heroin and prescription narcotics such as OxyContin.

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Quincy will be teaming with Braintree, Randolph, Stoughton, and Weymouth, while Brockton will work with East Bridgewater, Rockland, and Whitman. The three-year grants offer two options to renew that could allow recipients to receive up to $700,000 over seven years.

“I’m very pleased because this is an issue that knows no boundaries and no borders,” said Brockton Mayor Linda M. Balzotti. “This is going to be beneficial to the whole area because I think we are going to save a lot of lives and provide education that is going to prevent people from becoming involved with opiates.”

The two area grants were among 13 awarded by the state through a new Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative Program that will support local efforts to reduce the number of associated hospitalizations and deaths.

Quincy and its four partner communities on average experienced a combined 226.1 fatal overdoses and nonfatal ones requiring hospitalization in 2008-2010. For Brockton and its partner communities, the number was 140.7, according to the latest state Department of Public Health figures.

Brockton ranked sixth among all communities in the state with an average of 96.3 annual recorded overdoses, while Quincy was seventh with 95.

Among the other communities, Weymouth averaged 64.7 overdoses; Stoughton, 26; Braintree 23.7; Rockland, 20.7; Randolph, 16.7; Whitman, 13.7; and East Bridgewater, 10.

“It’s a situation all communities need to face, so I think a regional approach is a good way to be on the offensive,” said Braintree Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan.

As concerns about opiate abuse have risen in the south suburbs over the last several years, a number of communities have stepped up efforts to address it.

Among the initiatives are kiosks placed in police stations where the public can deposit unwanted prescription drugs. Communities have also held educational forums and organized special training sessions for police officers and hospital nurses. The Quincy Police and the Weymouth Fire departments have begun distributing a nasal spray known by its brand name, Narcan, that can undo the effects of an overdose.

With the new state funding, the Brockton and Quincy regional groups hope to build on those initiatives and expand their geographical reach.

The work will begin with assessments to determine the extent of the problem in each community and how it is being addressed. Included will be focus groups involving a wide range of participants, from doctors and public safety officers to opiate users. Organizers hope that from those discussions will come strategies to reduce the drug abuse.

Educating parents about opiate addiction is likely to be a key part of the strategy in the Quincy region, said Alejandro Rivera, program director of Impact Quincy Coalition, a program of Bay State Community Services that runs Quincy’s anti-opiate abuse coalition and will oversee the new Quincy regional group.

“Throughout the country, prescription drug abuse often starts by young people taking medication, maybe from their medicine cabinets at home,” he said.

Rivera said he also expects the communities will want to expand educational outreach to school personnel, “who have a captive audience;” police departments, “because they are the first line of response,” and the medical community.

“We also know we will be engaging young people because, as well as being part of the problem, they can be part of the solution,” he said, noting that teens can help shape social marketing campaigns to discourage opiate abuse.

Weymouth has been taking on the problem through the work of its Youth Coalition’s substance abuse team.

Through the group’s efforts, the town now allows residents to drop off unwanted medicines as part of household hazardous waste collection days, and placed a kiosk at the Department of Public Works to dispose of syringes. The team has also organized medicine collections at senior complexes, according to Lyn Frano, the team leader.

Other work by the Weymouth team has included organizing educational sessions on opiate addiction for nurses at South Shore Hospital, and educating pharmacists to tap into a state network that enables them to monitor whether an individual seeking to fill a prescription might be abusing a drug.

“I’m very excited about it,” Frano said of the chance to collaborate with other communities. “We’ve all used other approaches, so we can all learn from each other.”

Braintree has taken aim at opiate abuse as part of the work of its Community Partnership on Substance Abuse.

“The regional grant will be a step towards helping us get our message out in a way that is uniform but also responsive to a significant need,” Sullivan said.

Randolph plans to create a coalition to address opiate abuse, starting with an informational meeting this summer, according to Cheryl Cates, the town’s public health nurse. The new grant “is going to be an excellent asset to us because we are new in this arena and they have the experience they can share with us,” she said of Impact Quincy.

The Brockton regional initiative will be led by the Brockton Mayor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Coalition, a group that has been working on the issue in the city since 2008.

Koren Cappiello, Brockton’s director of community and social services, said she is “thrilled” that Brockton will now be able to work on the problem in tandem with its neighbors.

“It’s a very significant problem,” she said, noting that almost everyone she talks to knows someone who has felt its impact. “It can affect anybody.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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