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Hampshire HOPE, YMCA partnering on opioid prevention and overdose training

  • Last month, J. Cherry Sullivan taught 75 Y staff members how to use Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug. Submitted photo

  • NARCAN® (Naloxone Hydrochloride) Nasal Spray. Image courtesy of Adapt Pharma. This media asset is free for editorial broadcast, print, online and radio use. It is restricted for use for other purposes. Contributed photo/Adapt Pharma, Inc—Matthew Rakola

  • NARCAN® (Naloxone Hydrochloride) Nasal Spray. Image courtesy of Adapt Pharma. This media asset is free for editorial broadcast, print, online and radio use. It is restricted for use for other purposes. Contributed photo/Adapt Pharma, Inc—Matthew Rakola

  • NARCAN® (Naloxone Hydrochloride) Nasal Spray. Image courtesy of Adapt Pharma. This media asset is free for editorial broadcast, print, online and radio use. It is restricted for use for other purposes. Contributed photo/Adapt Pharma, Inc—

  • “We feel it will enable us to save lives,” Hampshire Regional YMCA CEO Julie Bianco says of the of the trainings. “Nationally, Y-USA had invited local Y’s to consider keeping Narcan on site while also educating the community about the opioid overdose epidemic.” Handout

  • Above, an injectable opiate overdose treatment drug, Naloxone, also known as Na rcan. Hampshire HOPE provides the same drug in nasal spray form.

  • At right, an injectable Narcan kit. Hampshire HOPE provides the same drug in nasal spray form.

For the Gazette      
Published: 4/23/2019 11:25:30 AM

I’ve been a lifelong fitness enthusiast, a Hampshire Regional YMCA member for five years and regularly enroll my children in Y classes, so walking through the doors of the Hampshire Regional YMCA on a weekend morning is par for the course. But on March 10, instead of a bag of workout clothes, I carried a bag filled with Narcan. That, I have to admit, was unusual. And more exciting than a workout.

I was there to teach 75 Y staff members how to use Narcan (aka naloxone), the opioid overdose reversal drug that has been saving lives amid our nation’s opioid overdose epidemic. I also talked to them about the physiology of addiction and the ways stigma and misunderstanding conspire to prevent people struggling with opioid use disorder and their loved ones from getting the help they need.

I recently spoke with Julie Bianco, CEO of the Hampshire Regional YMCA, about why the training was important:

Julie Bianco: We’re so happy about that training session and the two others you presented this year to our management team because we feel it will enable us to save lives. Nationally, Y-USA had invited local Y’s to consider keeping Narcan on site while also educating the community about the opioid overdose epidemic. Many opioid emergencies occur in public settings and public health officials, including the U.S. Surgeon General, have urged community organizations to keep Narcan on hand and be prepared to use it. Locally, we’re pleased to work with Hampshire HOPE on this effort. Through that ongoing partnership, we’ll now have Narcan available as well as the staff, who feel confident using it if necessary.

J. Cherry Sullivan: It seems that the seeds of this partnership were sown during the development of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities act signed into law on Oct. 24 with the goal of addressing our nation’s opioid epidemic — is that true?

JB: Yes, that’s right. Y-USA leaders had provided input to lawmakers throughout the development of the bill advocating for trauma-informed approaches and encouraging community-based organizations like Y’s to play a leadership role in addressing the crisis. When I learned that the Y-USA had given its blessing to on-site Narcan, I felt compelled to learn more about opioid overdose prevention. I wanted to figure out how our local Y can take responsibility for the safety and well-being of people dealing with substance use disorders, just as we do in promoting other health and wellness initiatives. That’s why I reached out to you.

CS: Well, Hampshire HOPE has been all over Hampshire County offering Narcan trainings in libraries and town halls and other public venues. We also provide education about opioid use disorders — that type of education is among our core strategies to address the opioid overdose epidemic. We see working with the local Y as a natural extension of that effort.

Can you elaborate on why you think it’s important for staff at the Hampshire Y to be trained on opioid overdose prevention?

JB: We’ve seen the devastating impact of addiction on families in the communities we serve. The opioid epidemic has impacted almost everyone, from children to grandparents. Because the Y serves all ages, it’s important that we be part of conversations about realistic solutions to this challenge. One powerful response is to educate our staff and the Y community about addiction.  We are well positioned to be a partner in Hampshire HOPE’s prevention and intervention efforts, from hosting trainings for staff and community to providing enriching youth programs that engage youth in healthy behaviors and creating a safe, healthy atmosphere for those seeking recovery.

CS: Are other Y’s engaged in this work?

JB: I’m told by Y-USA that 84 Y’s around the country have requested Narcan kits. And it’s quite possible there are more Y’s working on this effort independently or with community opioid prevention coalitions like we are with Hampshire HOPE.

CS: I see this initiative as one that has as its foundation intersecting the Hampshire Y’s mission to nurture healthy communities with Hampshire HOPE’s mission to address issues related to substance use disorder in our community.

JB: Yes, at the Y, we view the role of supporter and community convener in opioid prevention efforts as a perfect fit with our mission and believe we can make a positive difference through collaboration, conversations and community service.

CS: When we met in January to plan how we might work together, I was impressed with the great questions you and your leadership team asked. You wanted to know how to recognize an opioid overdose, how to administer Narcan and about protocols to adopt. It was heartening to hear that it was important not only to educate Y staff but the larger community as well. It seems you are all in with the idea that the Y can be part of a campaign to reduce stigma and offer strength-based interventions for youth, adults, and families.

JB:  Yes, education is one way to banish misunderstanding and reduce stigma. That’s why I was pleased that you offered a training earlier this month specifically for seniors about the realities of substance abuse disorders, the use of Narcan and the importance of prescription safe storage measures.

CS: Yes safe storage is so important! National data shows that one in four teens have used prescription opioids to get high, and of those, the majority report that they got the drugs from friends and families. That often means they took them from unlocked medicine cabinets. That’s why our coalition focuses on safe drug storage and proper drug disposal. We urge everyone to take advantage of the drug drop boxes at most police stations or to bring unneeded drugs to the Drug Take Back Day, April 27, in communities around Hampshire County. It is also so very important that people lock their medicine up.

When I learned that Hampshire Y has over 7,000 members (and many more program participants) I realized it this is a large group of people we can educate about this public health crisis. I imagine a majority of your members are touched by this issue, either struggling with substance use disorder, in recovery or because they have friends or loved ones in those situations. What other ways do you imagine the Y being involved in addressing the overdose crisis and in youth prevention?

JB: We provide programs addressing chronic disease prevention, intervention and recovery. Our Livestrong at the YMCA program, for example, helps cancer survivors regain strength and find their new normal after a cancer diagnosis. We collaborate with oncologists and other cancer support organizations to provide services.

We see substance use disorder in a similar way — a chronic illness that can be managed. But it’s also a disorder that can be prevented — and ​​​​​​also central to the Y’s mission is to support people in spirit, mind and body. We also support youth development and parents and caretakers in raising healthy, confident, connected children. We hope to help prevent this disease and aid recovery by offering a supportive, healthy alternative to substance use. Our wellness programs offer stress relief, pain management and social opportunities.

CS: I remember when we first talked, we had a lengthy discussion about stigma and how having Narcan on-site sends a powerful message to the community. 

JB: Yes, and by educating our staff, we provide more tools for them when the subject of substance misuse arises. Being in a Y space often leads to conversations where personal information is shared. We recognize our limitations — we are not counselors or medical professionals. But through constructive, supportive conversations, we might provide another arm of support for families and individuals. We can also help dispel common myths and connect people to the best resources.

CS: What kind of reaction to the training have you had from your staff?

​​​​​​JB: Reaction was overwhelmingly positive. As in the wider community, many members of our staff have been touched by the opioid epidemic in some way. Our staff really appreciates the education.

In the words of Shelli Nardi, youth program coordinator: “We are that much more prepared for an emergency and we can provide that safety for our members and community.”

Ivy Lenihan, our finance director had this to say: “The training opened my eyes to the fact that this is a much more complex issue than I originally thought.”

For me as CEO, I believe the more tools we have, the better we can collaborate with our community on this public health threat. 

CS: This is more evidence that this opioid crisis is not “us vs them.” The solution is truly about community. Efforts underway at the Hampshire Y remind everyone that people struggling with substance use disorder, and their loved ones are vital members of this community — they aren’t someone else, somewhere else. It’s important that all community organizations understand they, too, have a role to play in addressing this serious concern in our community.

Hampshire HOPE and The Hampshire Y are teaming up to offer a community training May 14, 7 -8 p.m. at the Y. The session is open to Y members and the wider community as well. There’s no need to register in advance.

J. Cherry Sullivan is coordinator for the Hampshire HOPE opioid prevention coalition run out of the city of Northampton’s Health Department. Julie Bianco is CEO of the Hampshire Regional YMCA and part of the coalition. Members of the coalition contribute to a monthly column about local efforts addressing the opioid epidemic.

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