$1M to fight youth opioid addiction 

  • Opioid Task Force co-founder John Merrigan during an emotional task force community forum, with co-founder Sheriff Christopher Donelan, at right. File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2018 11:31:08 PM

GREENFIELD — Six communities across the country received word this week from the Department of Justice that they will receive money to further study the causes and effects of the opioid crisis among young adults.

One of the six: a western Mass. collective spearheaded by the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin, which will receive $1 million over the next three years to collect data about people ages 16 to 24 struggling with opioid addiction.

The intention is 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 program brings together Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire counties, and will be named the Young Adult Empowerment Collaborative of Western Massachusetts. It will be under the direction of Debra McLaughlin of the Opioid Task Force and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office — which have been at the forefront of efforts in the state at tackling the opioid epidemic.

“As stewards of the next generation, how can we work with our allies and partners to really cultivate the leaders of tomorrow so that they feel they have vitality and that they belong here?” said McLaughlin, the coordinator of the task force and lead grant writer.

Over the three years of the million-dollar grant, McLaughlin said, the partners up and down the Pioneer Valley will work to find ways to make sure young adults are successful on their path to recovery.

It’s still early to define how success of the grant will be measured, but McLaughlin offered that if there are increases in educational and training opportunities for young adults, along with increased participation in their community, then it will be seen positively.

She mentioned a personal hope of hers would be continuing to work with local community colleges to make entry more accessible for people in recovery.

“What can we do that will make an enduring and lasting difference in their lives?” McLaughlin asked rhetorically.

Ideally, this initiative won’t disappear as the federal grant money potentially dries up, McLaughlin said. She is already looking at other funding opportunities.

The first year of the grant will be dedicated to planning and data collection, specifically with the direction of Youth Catalytics, the national nonprofit training and research organization focused on the needs of vulnerable young people and their families. McLaughlin stressed the role of Youth Catalytics, which was the group that initially alerted her to apply for the grant, because of its ability to help bring young voices to the table to shape the conversation of what works and what doesn’t.

There are 18 groups that make up the list of who unites to form the Young Adult Empowerment Collaborative of Western Massachusetts. Around here this includes: Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Communities That Care Coalition, North Quabbin Community Coalition, Hampshire HOPE and SPIFFY Coalition.

“We desperately need data-driven strategies to help break the cycle of opioid and other substance misuses,” Franklin County Sheriff and co-chair of the Opioid Task Force Christopher Donelan said in a press release sent out by the Task Force announcing the grant.

Co-founder of the Task Force and Register Probate of Franklin County John Merrigan said the grant can change the “trajectory of young people’s lives.”

Fellow co-chair of the Task Force, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said he looks forward to bringing the region together, as a part of a “larger effort to provide hope and opportunity for our region’s young adults.”

J. Cherry Sullivan, coordinator for Hampshire HOPE, said in the press release that the project will provide “more robust data that will allow us to target more vulnerable populations.”

“We know that young adults in their late teens and early 20s are at risk for opioid misuse and we want to reach that population and save their young lives,” Sullivan continued. 

Regional representatives in Congress spoke highly of the federal grant going to Greenfield and the surrounding communities.

“Western Massachusetts is known for coming up with innovative and pioneering solutions to support the needs of our communities,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said in the press release. “It’s no surprise to me that we secured one of only six grants awarded in the nation,”

The Worcester Democrat said he expects the information gathered from this study will “prove invaluable to communities across the country who are grappling with how to break the cycle and change the lives of young people who have been affected by this career.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said “I am confident that this innovative program will help save lives and restore hope for those struggling with addiction.”

“The opioid crisis is an unprecedented public health crisis in the United States, but we are committed to the president’s plan to end the epidemic through prevention, treatment and enforcement,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said in a release from the Department of Justice, which celebrated this grant alongside 11 other Massachusetts programs, garnering $8.4 million in federal grants.

Jacquelyn Voghel contributed to this story.

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