New program emphasizes ‘multi-pronged’ approach to reducing opioid-related deaths

  • Debra McLaughlin, the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region’s coordinator, helped lead CONNECT’s virtual information session Thursday afternoon. Pictured is a chart showing fatal opioid-related overdoses since 2012. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • BIALECKI-CANNING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/26/2021 1:35:47 PM
Modified: 7/26/2021 1:35:51 PM

GREENFIELD — The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region held a virtual information session Thursday afternoon to promote the launch of the CONNECT initiative, which began operation July 1.

CONNECT, which stands for Community Opportunity, Network, Navigation, Exploration and Connection Team, is a regional collaboration of law enforcement, community health centers and outreach organizations created to combat the opioid epidemic in Franklin County. The organization’s press release explains it provides “free, confidential resources and referrals for those who have experienced or witnessed an opioid overdose.”

CONNECT’s pilot program was launched July 1 in Greenfield, Deerfield and Montague.

Debra McLaughlin, the Opioid Task Force’s coordinator, said opioid-related deaths are climbing in the region, much like in the rest of the country.

“Nationally, we are continuing to be pummeled by opioid-related deaths,” McLaughlin said. “We’re experiencing a record number of opioid deaths here. From Jan. 1 to March 1, 2021, we’ve already at 14 fatalities.”

Allison Proctor, CONNECT’s interim project manager, said the program is a first of its kind in the region and it has cast a wide net because the opioid epidemic concerns far more than those who have overdosed.

“It’s the first 24/7 overdose response team where we follow up 72 hours after an opioid overdose,” Proctor said. “It’s not one issue; we’re not looking at it with tunnel vision.”

Heather Bialecki-Canning, the North Quabbin Community Coalition’s executive director, expanded on Proctor’s statement by saying that CONNECT’s objective is to “look at situations holistically,” which includes the person who overdosed, their family and their living situation.

“I’m incredibly grateful for this model and hopeful as it rolls out,” Bialiecki-Canning said. “Our numbers are awful and getting worse.”

She said this program has helped inform both the organizations fighting the opioid epidemic and the people who are affected by it.

“We’ve learned so much about recovery in our community,” Bialecki-Canning said. “It can help us move in the direction of happy, healthy families.”

CONNECT is supported by a $1 million two-year grant the Opioid Task Force received in October 2020. An additional three-year federal grant for $600,000 followed in November.

CONNECT is based on a seven-goal process that involves caring for people and their families in the three-day period after an overdose, ensuring naloxone is accessible for those even in rural regions and providing “comprehensive, evidence-based care.”

The region has seen eight non-fatal overdoses in the initiative’s first 22 days alone, per information shared during Thursday’s session. Proctor said CONNECT creates an opportunity for a “multi-pronged” approach in reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in the region.

“CONNECT is a multi-faceted program and we are working with many sectors of our community,” Proctor said. “A law enforcement officer will not have the same language as a health worker.”

The Greenfield Police Department is one part of this multi-pronged approach. Deputy Chief William Gordon said the partnerships created by CONNECT help fill in gaps of expertise that the officers responding the situation may be missing.

“Often, our officers have boots on the ground and I’d like to say we’re jacks of all trades, but masters of none,” Gordon said. “It’s nice to have this group of masters come with us and try to help people.”

Gordon added he has seen CONNECT help people effectively, even in its early days.

“It’s a whole new way of doing things,” Gordon said. “Even though we’ve only been doing it for 22 days now, we’re already seeing results and hopefully it only gets better.”

More information about CONNECT can be found at opioidtaskforce.org/CONNECT.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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