Opioid Task Force garners grant to promote racial equity in treatment




Staff Writer
Published: 2/14/2021 3:29:37 PM
Modified: 2/14/2021 3:29:36 PM

GREENFIELD — A two-year $99,974 grant that the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region has received from the state attorney general will support recovery programs and behavioral health services for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

The Opioid Task Force will use the grant to implement its “Cultural Humility in Post-Opioid Overdose Follow-Up Services Project” in Franklin County and the North Quabbin area. The program is part of the Community Opportunity, Network, Navigation, Exploration and Connection Team (CONNECT) Initiative, which received a $1 million grant in October of 2020 to launch. In November, the Opioid Task Force received an additional three-year grant for $600,000 to support its new 24/7 overdose rapid response team.

“Reducing racial disparities within the public health and criminal justice systems is crucial to improving health outcomes for Black, Indigenous and People of Color, especially those affected by opioid misuse,” Northwestern District Attorney and Opioid Task Force Co-Chair David Sullivan said. “Our participation in this grant program will allow us to implement a robust cultural humility component to our post-overdose follow-up efforts in our rural region.”

This grant award is one of 16 funded throughout the state. It came from an $11 million settlement that Attorney General Maura Healey reached with Injured Workers Pharmacy for unlawful and dangerous prescription drug dispensing practices.

“The opioid epidemic is far from over and the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated barriers to care that have systemically and disproportionately harmed communities of color for far too long,” Healey said. “We have prioritized equity in our grant programs and awarded these funds to organizations like the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region that are committed to providing accessible recovery and treatment services to diverse patients.”

Sullivan said the funds will ensure that the CONNECT effort will adhere to the evidence-based National CLAS Standards — 15 steps intended to advance health equity, improve quality and help eliminate health care disparities — to promote cultural humility as it launches its 24/7 opioid overdose rapid response services that will use a regional hub and spoke model to respond to fatal and non-fatal overdoses in the 30-town region. National CLAS Standards provide a blueprint for individuals and health care organizations to implement “culturally and linguistically appropriate services.”

The Cultural Humility Effort in Post-Opioid Overdose Follow-Up Services Project will expand access for Black, Indigenous and People of Color individuals impacted by opioid use disorder for the CONNECT effort through significant staff training, identification of barriers to access, appropriate outreach and support for patient-centered pathways for recovery.

Franklin County Register of Probate and Opioid Task Force Co-Chair John Merrigan said the grant will provide resources it needs to fulfill a vision that late Chief Justice of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ralph Gants had for the state.

“He advocated tirelessly for justice for all; this includes health equity,” Merrigan said. “These funds will ensure that everyone has access to life-saving opioid treatment and recovery services, especially people of color.”

CONNECT will serve individuals who experience or witness an opioid overdose and other populations considered to be at high risk of an opioid use disorder, including those with co-occurring mental health conditions, pregnant/postpartum women, youths, military veterans and the formerly incarcerated.

“In Massachusetts, Black and Latinx populations are over-represented in the criminal justice system,” Franklin County Sheriff and Opioid Task Force Co-Chair Christopher Donelan said.

“Many also suffer from substance use disorders. Our cultural humility initiative will help us use data and other evidence-based strategies to address racial inequities in our quest to prevent opioid-related overdoses.”

The Sheriff’s Office is the administrative home for the Opioid Task Force and was the lead applicant for the grant.

For more information, visit opioidtaskforce.org. Also visit the Opioid Task Force on Facebook and Twitter.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.

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