Meeting Will Focus on Regional Approach to Fighting Opiate Abuse and Overdose

A new multi-city, regional effort to combat the spread of heroin use and heroin overdoses will take place tonight, Oct. 16, at the Susan B. Anthony Middle School and will bring together voices from several communities decimated by the powerful drug – including Revere, Chelsea, Saugus and Winthrop.

A renewed, three-year state grant from the Department of Public Health will allow Revere to hire a full-time administrator who will oversee the regional approach that has grown out of the previous MassColl 2 grant that has been used in Revere.

As the heroin use in the communities has grown to epidemic proportions, groups such as North Suffolk Mental Health, RevereCARES, CASA of Winthrop, the City of Chelsea and Saugus banded together to form the Winnisimmet Regional Opioid Collaborative (WROC) as much out of necessity as convenience.

Saugus Fire Chief Donald McQuaid said his town has grown from a sleepy bedroom community to a community with a terrible drug problem. He indicated that there were 14 overdose deaths in Saugus between 2008 and 2010, and there were 542 non-fatal overdose hospitalizations in 2011.

“I’ve been in the Fire Department in Saugus for 26 years and we didn’t used to see drugs like this back then,” he said. “It was all different. It’s so easy for them to get it and there are so many prescription drugs now right there in the family medicine cabinet. We have to get the word out because people don’t understand it can happen anywhere. Saugus has always been a quiet bedroom community. It just shows it can happen anywhere.”

Like the Revere Fire Department – which led the fight for Narcan – Saugus Fire now carries the opiate reversal drug Narcan. McQuaid said they have already used it to save 11 lives since August. Without the help of Revere Fire through WROC, Narcan would likely not have been on the fire trucks and those lives may not have been saved.

In Revere, the Fire Department has used its Narcan 111 times since 2010 and has saved 105 lives from heroin overdose with the reversal drug.

Kim Hanton, a counselor with North Suffolk, said she is on the front lines in most of the communities in the partnership, and she is seeing the problem grow and grow.

“Opiates amount to be the number one abused medication in both adolescents and young adults – male and female,” said Hanton. “They start with the pills and maintaining that level of use is pretty difficult. The prescription medications act as a gateway to the heroin that is running rampant through all these communities…Unfortunately, the age has clearly decreased in the onset of opiate addiction. It hasn’t leveled off as we thought it would. It’s astounding. I recently treated a kid age 11 with an opiate problem.”

That is why officials are holding the multi-city meeting and why they are saying now is really the time to come together for more regional solutions.

“The partnership really just came together organically,” said Hanton. “Saugus could have easily went with Lynn and Gloucester, but it made sense to come join us. It was a very cool thing that just came together in a normal way. These kinds of relationships across city lines are just so crucial in this battle.”

Added counselor Gary Langis, “This is working really well. It’s one of the first times that there isn’t some sort of competitive atmosphere in the community.”

New Chelsea Health Director Dan Cortez said he has been happy to have Revere mentoring his community through the group effort.

“Having Revere be a mentor community on this is really important to us in Chelsea,” Cortez said. “It’s important to understand there is a lot of great work being done in organizations throughout the communities. My goal is to continue to move the ball forward. It’s a process of re-engaging and aligning our goals.”

Katie Sugarman of RevereCARES said the history of the partnership goes back to 2004 when her organization began to team up with North Suffolk to stem the tide on the new problem of prescription drug and opiate abuse.

What has sprung from that effort is the annual Revere Beach Memorial – now in its seventh year – and a drop-in counseling center at North Suffolk’s Revere facility.

Over time, the new partnership evolved through necessity and natural collaboration. Now, that collaboration has been rewarded with state funding and guidance.

The Town Hall meeting will take place tonight, Oct. 16, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Susan B. Anthony Middle School, 107 Newhall St.

Speakers will include House Speaker Bob DeLeo, MGH President Dr. Peter Slavin, MGH Primary Care Dr. Eric Weil and General Arthur Dean – CEO of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of American (CADCA).

The meeting is co-sponsored by WROC and CADCA.

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