To combat rising substance abuse and reduce overdoses in Boston, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced a programTuesday involving community-based workshops to make treatment more accessible.
Massachusetts officials have been fighting the increasing rate of substance abuse and overdoses for over seven years now. According to a Tuesday release, unintentional overdoses increased by 39 percent from 2010 to 2012.
Last year, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick dedicated $1.3 million to the Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative Program. Additionally, Walsh’s mayoral campaign featured substance abuse prevention as one of its main focuses.
“There’s a stigma around drug and alcohol addiction that keeps too many people from getting the help they desperately need, and that has to change,” Walsh said in the Tuesday release. “I know the battle against addiction can’t be won alone. Increasing access to education and treatment options is one of the best things we can do to combat the stigma and give people a fighting chance at recovery.”
The Department of Public Health has been operating an overdose prevention program since 2007. Anne Roach, media relations manager for DPH, said this program covers a vast range of treatments including opiate treatment, raising awareness and local funding to reduce overdoses.
DPH has also provided the 15 cities with the highest overdose rates, including Boston, with training for using naloxone nasal spray kits. Through this Naloxone pilot program, the participation first-responder programs have reversed 300 overdoses.
Another aspect of the state government that will be integrally involved in this initiative is the Boston Public Health Commission. Nick Martin, director of communications, said they would be a large part of the community outreach meetings in addition to the actions that their Bureau of Addictions Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Support Services department is taking.
“Part of [the meetings] will be an opportunity to network and meet the different substance abuse coalitions in those neighborhoods, the other part will be some overdose prevention training, and the third part, for anyone that needs it, will be information on how you get connected to treatment services,” he said. “Substance abuse is not a disease that discriminates, it affects all of our communities.”
Andrew Ward, program director of the South Boston Collaborative Center, said he is appreciative of what Walsh and his administration are doing to work on this issue, but said many preventive measures need to happen before the substance addiction problem arises.
“In efforts of prevention, we try to increase community dialogues around healthier lifestyles, activities kids can get into, and conversations parents can have with their kids in an ongoing way,” he said. “We try to catch potential early warning signs with kids, and promote alternative behaviors.”
A number of residents said the community meetings would be vital to the success of the program.
“I lost my friend to a drug overdose last summer,” said Evgniy Dolzhenkov, 42, of Brighton. “Clinical and psychological treatments are really important. Open meetings need to be made more common. I think it would also help a lot to get people who have gotten through their addictions to educate people about the dangers.”
Maryellen Blanco, 28, of Brighton, said educating people on the causes and effects of substance abuse needs to be a priority.
“The classes are really important, getting that information out to the public,” she said. “I’m not sure how I feel about the overdose reversing drug, whether it’s safe or not, but I do think informing the people is the most important thing.”
Matt Weinstein, 32, of Allston, said the drug is helpful as long as those whose lives are saved do not return to their drug abusing habits.
“This is definitely a public health issue,” he said. “If the drug is going to save lives, I support it. But those people who have the drug administered then need to get into treatment programs, otherwise it’s a waste of resources.”