WOBURN – Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Middlesex Partnerships for Youth (MPY) hosted an opiate overdose prevention conference, “It Stops Here – Ending Opiate Abuse In Our Communities.” More than two hundred school professionals, law enforcement officials, and legislators from towns and cities in Middlesex County attended the program at Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford. Participants heard the latest data and research on opiate use and learned “best practices” to help cities and towns effectively respond to substance abuse among youth.
“Opiate overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, exceeding even traffic deaths,” said District Attorney Ryan. “There is no doubt that we are facing an epidemic and that the human toll from drug abuse is enormous. We must continue educating the public about how heroin today is more deadly than ever because of the substances it is being mixed with, continue urging doctors and dentists to prescribe opiates in doses which are limited and short-term, and continue to have regular conversations with young people so they do not get drawn into situations where they will become drug addicted.
Siblings, parents, classmates, and friends are all affected in some way when someone they know is a drug user. That is why active community partnerships are so important.”
Chris Herren, a Fall River native who went on to play professional basketball for the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics, told his powerful personal story of how drug abuse derailed his promising NBA career. Herren said the best way to steer young people to making better choices is to have regular conversations: “We need to give kids more of a platform to discuss things like responsible drinking, using drugs, bullying, self-esteem, and their wellness in general,” he said. “We need to talk to kids to find out what issues they may be dealing with in their homes and in their schools.”
Dr. Kevin Hill, Director of the Substance Abuse Consultation Service at McLean Hospital, told the audience many issues lead someone to have substance abuse problems, including, “the duration that people are on prescribed medicine and whether parents had alcohol and drug abuse issues.” Dr. Hill elaborated, “You are at higher risk if you have had someone in your family who had addictions. Clearly there is a genetic component to this.” Dr. Hill called the opiate crisis an “ominous” trend and singled out the over prescription of some opiates as a root cause. He said medical professionals must be urged to consider prescribing “lesser opiates” to treat patients for short-term pain management and to give a limited amount of opiates with initial prescriptions for patients.
Officials attending the conference included Nashoba Valley Technical High School Superintendent Dr. Judith Klimkiewicz, State Senator Eileen Donoghue, State Representative Carolyn Dykema, Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, members of the MPY Board of Directors, school professionals, Police Chiefs, Fire Chiefs, and other First Responders who have been involved in collaborative efforts with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and Middlesex Partnerships for Youth.
Partnerships on the issue of substance abuse began in earnest in 2012, when, in response to the alarming rise in overdoses, the Lowell Opiate Task Force was founded by District Attorney Ryan and Senator Donoghue. The Task Force members include law enforcement, hospital personnel, social services, public health workers, and legislators. At its monthly meetings at Lowell General Hospital, Task Force members plan legislative initiatives, ways to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment, effective prevention programs, and emergency response “best practices.”
The Lowell Opiate Task Force has partnered with other entities in order to offer workshops and trainings. On Tuesday, March 3, District Attorney Ryan in collaboration with the Greater Lowell Health Alliance, led training for medical professionals at Lowell General Hospital. SCOPE of Pain, a program sponsored by Boston University School of Medicine, educates nurses, dentists, doctors, and other medical professionals to employ appropriate assessment, monitoring, and documentation strategies to meet best practice standards and medico-legal requirements when treating patients with chronic opioid therapy.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office has purchased prescription Drug Collection Units for communities in Middlesex County to provide the public with a safe, accessible way to properly dispose of unused or expired medications. Removing unwanted prescription drugs from a home is an important tool in preventing abuse of prescription drugs, as 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain killers reportedly got them from relatives or friends. Those who become addicted to prescription narcotics often then turn to heroin, as it is a much cheaper and readily available drug.
District Attorney Ryan has also hosted training for First Responders in the use of Narcan, which can reverse the symptoms of an overdose and help prevent fatalities. District Attorney Ryan provided towns and cities with 540 doses of Narcan.
Middlesex County has already reported 45 deaths from drug overdoses in 2015. Year-end figures for 2014 reflected an alarming trend: 146 drug-related overdose deaths, compared with an estimated 80 drug-related overdose deaths in 2013, and an estimated 65 overdose deaths in 2012. It should be noted that these figures reflect cases of unattended drug-related deaths that Massachusetts State Troopers respond to in Middlesex County. Not included in these numbers are overdose deaths which occur in hospitals so the number of drug-related deaths in actuality is higher.