Study: Drugs, Alcohol Are Top Concerns

After an unprecedented 18-month survey of Revere residents, the Mass General Hospital (MGH) released a comprehensive community assessment and, once again, drug and alcohol use in Revere is the top concern.

Using a mandate from the Affordable Care Act as an impetus, the hospital began work Dec. 7, 2011 in the communities it serves, including Revere, Chelsea and Charlestown. In Revere, a steering committee was organized, a survey was conducted and focus group discussions were facilitated in just about every language and in just about every corner of the City.

What they came away with were new sets of priorities, but sets that mirror very closely the priorities laid out in the 1990s when MGH formed RevereCARES to address and discuss the substance abuse problem identified by residents as a priority at that time.

“This time around we tried to reach the residents in particular who might not take a survey so that we could get a real representative sample,” said Leslie Aldrich of MGH. “It had to be very collaborative and collective so that it’s a community process and the community owns it. That’s so any priorities identified are right on the mark and sustainable.”

The Focus Groups in Revere that gave detailed input in the survey – in addition to several hundred online surveys returned – included 84 people (27 males and 57 females). Some were senior citizens, some were young people, some were English speakers, some were Latino and others were Muslim or Cambodian.

One theme that was common throughout the three areas identified was that of public safety and violence prevention. RevereCARES Director Kitty Bowman said they will integrate that aspect into each of the three new priorities.

However, the top of the list was once again substance abuse issues, and MGH has committed to providing $66,000 to be combined with a $100,000 state grant for combatting alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (ATOD).

Healthy Eating/Active Living was the second priority identified and the Revere on the Move campaign already going full speed will be continued and expanded. Also as part of that, MGH will commit $36,000 to expand the Power of Know Clubs to all the City’s middle schools. Already, a very popular Power of Know Club exists at Revere High School.

Another area of concentration will be with Youth Development and MGH plans to devote $72,000 to a Healthy Relationships campaign, hiring a full-time person to get that effort off the ground.

The survey’s raw data revealed some interesting findings as well.

Many things showed improvement in the substance abuse realm, such as 62 percent of RHS students have ever drank alcohol in their lifetime (a 25 percent decrease since 1999), and tobacco sales to minors in Revere is four points below the state average of 8.1 percent.

However, 1 in 5 middle school students said they wished their parents would drink and do drugs less often. Some 4.3 people out of every 5 surveyed said that alcohol is a large problem in Revere, and the adult smoking rate in the City is 8 points higher that the state average of 16 percent.

Finally, heroin was defined as the largest problem facing the city’s population right now. Heroin abuse is the top reason, by far, for residents seeking out substance abuse treatment, and the City has an opiate death rate that is twice as high as the state average (10 people died of heroin overdoses in 2008).

The responses around mental health were some of the most concerning to MGH officials, with them noting that the mental health of the community might be a new issue surfacing on the horizon.

Some figures included:

•1 in 8 Revere High students considered suicide within the year, and 1 in 16 students actually attempted suicide within the year.

•1 in 3 families in Revere are affected by depression or anxiety.

•13 percent of Revere adults said they suffer from depression, while 26 percent of Revere High students said they did.

•45 percent said they were not able to get mental health services in the community when they needed it.

•Only 38 percent of Revere residents said they knew the first names of their neighbors.

“This really rose a lot of concerns,” said Aldrich. “We know we have a lot of resources that we need for mental health, but the bigger problem is we’re not connecting the available services to residents of our community. It says to us that maybe they don’t know how to navigate the resources that exist.”

Obesity/Healthy Living responses also raised some concerns.

•Only 56 percent of Revere residents exercise at least 30 minutes, three days a week.

•38 percent of RHS students watch three or more hours of TV each school night (25 percent above state average).

•44 percent of Revere students are overweight or obese, 10 percent above the state average.

•Hospitalizations for diabetes are 44 percent higher than the state average, and 17 percent higher for heart disease.

Finally, incidents of cancer and deaths from cancer were a particular concern, with lung cancer and breast cancer incidents and deaths much higher than the state average.

Over the next year, MGH and RevereCARES will begin to implement the plan from the Needs Assessment and Strategic Planning Report.

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