Editorial: Federal grants welcome aid to battle opioid crisis in region


Published: 9/26/2017 7:26:36 PM

Two federal grants announced last week will add significant resources to battle the opioid crisis in the region.

Northampton will receive a four-year, $1.7 million grant to expand Hampshire HOPE, a regional opioid prevention coalition, to every community in Hampshire County. Franklin County Probate and Family Court was awarded $2.1 million over five years to expand by 300 percent a first-of-its-kind program in the state, which was started a year ago.

Both grants are impressive because they are providing money to expand innovative programs. Northampton was the only city in the country awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The other 20 grants went to state, county or tribal health departments.

Hampshire HOPE is housed in the Northampton Health Department. The grant will pay for specialized overdose response teams countywide, and the purchase of the lifesaving overdose reversal drug Naloxone (most commonly known by the brand name Narcan). Nearly $100,000 will be spent on 3,225 doses of Narcan that will be distributed to first responders and other community groups. The doses will be replaced as they are used.

Hampshire HOPE will work with Cooley Dickinson and Mary Lane Baystate hospitals, Tapestry Health, Clinical & Support Options, law enforcement, addiction treatment centers and other social service agencies to create overdose response teams that will plan strategy and coordinate care. They are designed to remove gaps in services.

“When people fall through cracks, they die,” says J. Cherry Sullivan, Hampshire HOPE coordinator. “It’s the next step in a more coordinated system of outreach to those who have experienced an overdose, as well as their loved ones. We see this as a chance to think outside the box of a traditional treatment model.”

Franklin County also is pioneering new ways to help cope with the opioid epidemic — this time for families that find themselves in probate court over custody and child welfare issues related to addiction. The family drug court has been touted as “another piece in the puzzle” for fighting the opioid addiction epidemic, intended to fill a hole in the region’s support structure for parents who become addicted and end up in family court.

The probate court’s First Justice Beth Crawford sees a “devastating impact of substance use upon parents, their children, and other family members,” every day. “This infusion of resources will allow us to develop a responsive trauma-informed system of care that will offer hope and help as families pursue their recovery.”

The grant is another indication of the confidence that public health officials have in the Franklin County Regional Drug Task Force for innovating approaches to address addiction’s harm — not just to individual drug abusers but also to their families.

Addiction often becomes a complicating factor in custody battles with non-custodial parents and or with grandparents.

Crawford has said family drug court will give families who find themselves involved in such cases — which have increased steadily over recent years — the opportunity to voluntarily enter a court-overseen treatment program while the underlying custody case is put on hold.

If participants elect to enter the Family Drug Court, they are required to participate in local self-help groups multiple times per week, submit to random drug screenings, appear regularly before the court to report on their progress, and work with a recovery coach to address their problem.

The money, about $420,000 annually, will pay for five employees housed in the court who will offer help directly to families, and to pay for a study by University of Massachusetts Medical School to evaluate the program’s success. If it works, the state could replicate it in other courthouses.

The Family Drug Court will hire two case managers, two recovery coaches and a nurse.

It’s a tragedy that we as a society have to confront this opioid epidemic as its tendrils reach into so many facets of our communities and family life. These grants will continue the regional efforts to respond to with addiction’s consequences and help those most affected.

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