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Editorial: Hope for federal opioid grant to change lives locally

  • A pharmacy tech poses for a picture with hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen tablets, the generic version of Vicodin. File photo


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

When the Recorder first began closely covering the opioid epidemic locally about five years ago, one of the chief complaints was that too few residential rehabilitation programs existed to help the afflicted. There were none to speak of in Franklin County, and addicts who had reached that delicate moment when they were seeking help, struggled to find it any closer than Springfield or Boston.

Since those days, more rehab beds have come to Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, as have other kinds of support and intervention programs — largely through the efforts of the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin, which saw the problem early on and has tapped into state and regional money to confront addiction.

The Task Force and its allies have sought not just to provide rehab for those who seek it, but have sought ways to head off the problem, to intercept and help those headed for trouble — in the courts, in the jails, in hospitals and in schools.

Opioid addiction, which can start with overuse or abuse of prescription painkillers, can hit people of all ages and occupations, even our police and nurses, our own reporting has shown. But young adults are especially vulnerable.

So we are glad to see that the Task Force has won a $1 million grant to study the causes and effects of addiction among young people. We were among six communities across the country to get the Department of Justice grant, which shows we weren’t just among the first to recognize the problem but also out front in tackling this problem.

Over the next three years, the money will be used to collect data about people 16 to 24 who are struggling with opioid addiction, to both help young adults who are using substances and to try to find the most effective evidence-based ways to prevent addiction in the first place.

The new program — to be called Young Adult Empowerment Collaborative of Western Massachusetts – will be led by Debra McLaughlin of the Opioid Task Force and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and will work with agencies from Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire counties.

Over the three years, McLaughlin said, the partners in western Mass. will work to find ways to make sure young adults are successful on their path to recovery. McLaughlin will be looking for ways to increase educational and training opportunities for young adults, along with increased participation in their community — which can be a powerful counterforce to the seduction of substance abuse.

The study will be looking for what will make an “enduring and lasting difference in their lives” according to McLaughlin.

There are 18 groups on Young Adult Empowerment Collaborative, including Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Opioid Task Force, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Communities That Care Coalition and the North Quabbin Community Coalition. All of the people in these agencies have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of the less fortunate, and we are grateful for their efforts.

Ideally, this initiative won’t disappear as the federal money dries up, and we are counting on the grant-seeking skills of McLaughlin and others.

This grant will be dedicated to finding what works and what doesn’t in the fight to keep young people away from substance abuse and addiction. Sheriff Christopher Donelan, one of the co-founders of the Task Force, noted recently that we need data-driven strategies to help break the cycle of opioid and other substance misuses, and this grant should help with that. Another Task Force co-founder, Franklin Register Probate John Merrigan, said this grant can change the “trajectory of young people’s lives.”

We hope that’s true. It’s certainly why so many people have been working so hard for the past five years to help those at risk of addiction and those already ensnared.


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