Northampton lands big grant to fight opioid-related deaths

  • Derek Hill, right, who lives at Honest Beginnings in Belchertown, hangs a message for a friend who died of a heroin overdose during “Hope, Remembrance and Recovery: Healing from the Opioid Crisis,” held in Northampton last June. The city of Northampton landed a $1.7 million grant this week to help it fight opioid-related deaths in every Hampshire County community. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • A $1.7 million federal grant the city of Northampton landed this week will enable Hampshire HOPE to bulk purchase the lifesaving overdose reversal drug Narcan for every police and fire department in Hampshire County. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 9/22/2017 12:37:35 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The city has landed a $1.7 million grant from the federal government to prevent opioid-related deaths in every Hampshire County community, a significant award that officials hope will help curb what the mayor calls the “single most important public health issue” facing the region, state and nation.

The four-year grant, coordinated through a regional opioid prevention coalition called Hampshire HOPE, calls for the creation of specialized overdose response teams countywide and the purchase of large quantities of the lifesaving overdose reversal drug Naloxone, or Narcan.

Northampton was the only city in the country to land such a grant, officials said Thursday.

“This was a nationwide grant that was super-duper competitive,” Mayor David J. Narkewicz said, adding that entire states “were applying to receive these grants.”

The grant money will be used to cover the cost of several interrelated initiatives, and will significantly “scale up” the work of Hampshire HOPE to serve all of Hampshire County.

The goal, said Hampshire HOPE coordinator J. Cherry Sullivan, is to help stop people from falling through the cracks, referring to the number of people affected by opioids.

“When people fall through the cracks, they die,” Sullivan said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 91 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose. In Northampton, the city saw an average of one overdose a week last year, according to police.

Created about two years ago, Hampshire HOPE operates out of the Northampton Health Department and currently serves seven communities. The federal grant will enable the organization to expand its reach into every community in the county, Health Director Merridith O’Leary said. To accomplish that, Hampshire HOPE will hire of an almost full-time coordinator to assist with the work.

“We often feel that the rural communities were kind of left out,” O’Leary said.

The grant provides funding to allow bulk purchasing of Narcan, as well as replacing doses as they are used. Initially, 3,225 doses will be purchased at a cost of nearly $100,000, and will be distributed to Hampshire County police and fire departments and other community groups. Currently, 40 percent of Hampshire County police departments don’t carry Narcan, in part because of the cost of the drug.

“This is a lifesaving measure on its own,” said O’Leary, referring to Naloxone.

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will also support the creation of special overdose response teams. These teams will work to remove gaps in services by bringing together a network of first responders and other providers in the areas of intervention, treatment and recovery.

Joining Hampshire HOPE in this effort will be staff from Cooley Dickinson and Mary Lane Baystate hospitals, Tapestry Health, Clinical & Support Options, police, addiction treatment centers and other social service agencies.

The response teams will meet regularly to plan strategy and coordinate care, which will involve training police and other emergency responders and professionals who come into contact with people addicted to opioids.

The response teams will be modeled on a pilot program launched last year by the Northampton Police Department, the Drug Addiction Response Team, known as DART, and another program in Lake County, Illinois, where police provide support and fast track to treatment.

With the grant, the DART program will be expanded and additional regional response teams will be created.

“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,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We see this as a chance to think outside the box of a traditional treatment model.”

The Northwestern district attorney’s office will assist in the effort by providing municipalities with policies and protocols and providing police with Naloxone. The DA’s drug diversion and treatment program will also continue to attempt to keep low-level drug offenders out of the criminal justice system and move them into treatment and recovery.

Gazette reporter Emily Cutts contributed to this story.

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