By Sue Ellen Woodcock
A woman stopped by the walk-in center to learn how to get and use Narcan one day. A week later she calls the fire department because her son is overdosing. The firefighter save him with Narcan. Two days later he is dead.
This is just one example of how the opioid epidemic plays out each day in Revere and surrounding communities. This is one of the reasons Mayor Brian Arrigo called for the first opioid work group to meet Tuesday afternoon in the conference room at the Revere Police Station.
In an overflow crowd of public officials, Suffolk County sheriff, recovery coaches, doctors, firefighters, police, and others who work on the front line of the epidemic, Arrigo applauded the governor for signing new legislation about prescribing opioid painkillers, screening of students and more.
“For me, this is my demographic. I’m going to be engaged in this,” Arrigo said. “This is one of my top three priorities.’
Beginning in July, the state will mandate that hospitals administer a substance-abuse evaluation to anyone who shows up in an emergency room believed to be suffering from an opioid overdose. The law also limits prescribers to a seven-day supply of painkillers. The new law will eventually require schools to conduct verbal screenings of students for substance abuse.
“It’s a good start,” Doherty said. “But the state doesn’t have enough (rehab) beds. If he (Baker) can get some open that can do something. It’s good to see the doctors jumping onboard.”
In October, practitioners will have to check a prescription monitoring program before prescribing drugs that have relatively high potential for abuse. The law allows patients to voluntarily reduce the amount of opioids they receive from a pharmacist, getting, say, 10 pills even if their doctor’s prescription is for 15.
“(I am committed) to partnering with you to develop new strategies, including recommended tools such as evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug take-back events, treatment intervention, and harm reduction strategies,” Arrigo said.
Sylvia Chiang, director of Revere Cares, said she welcomes working together on this complex issue. She will work with the city of Revere collecting data.
Julia Newhall, program manager, Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative (MOAPC), Winnisimmet Regional Opioid Collaborative (WROC), said the city is number two in the state for opioid deaths, a number that may not be completely accurate since many cities and towns do not track opioid deaths.
According to Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Revere had 22 fatal opioid overdoses in 2014. Since last June, said Fire Chief Gene Doherty, the firefighters have visited 57 homes to support families and addicts. There have been 28 Narcan-saves since January, unfortunately during the same time there were 17 fatal overdoses. There have been 181 overdoses reported since last June.
Narcan is now in the schools for principals, nurses school resource officers to use. Doherty said firefighters will now be working with middle school students.
“We have also worked with business owners like Dunkin Donuts to change the locks on the restroom doors,” Doherty said. Now the locks can be opened with a key. The department has also done work training firefighters in Peabody, Salem and Swampscott.
“Through the drop-in center we are doing outreach,” said Kim Hanton, of North Suffolk Community Health. “We’re responding to people with follow-ups and referrals.”
Arrigo said the working group will meet again.
For more information go to the website www.reverercoveryhelp.org