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Addiction in Franklin County

House OKs money for opioid task force

The ad-hoc group that has rallied to fight a growing addiction problem locally has its first drop of funding rolling through the state legislative process.

Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan said Rep. Stephen Kulik has secured the Opioid Education and Awareness Task Force a $40,000 earmark in a supplemental budget bill released this week — money to hire an administrator for the growing effort.

“As a task force we’ve been talking about all kinds of ideas and recommendations and this would be the person in charge of bringing those things to life and implementing them,” Donelan said.

Kulik said, in his opinion, the opiate problem has hit Franklin County hard and quickly, increasing rapidly in the past several months and the task force needs resources.

“After speaking with (task force organizers) John Merrigan and Chris Donelan, they felt that they were making real progress, had real momentum and enthusiasm for the work of the task force, but things were getting to the point where they really needed some assistance and some resources,” Kulik said.

Donelan said the money would pay the salary of a coordinator through the spring — as a supplemental budget item it ends with the fiscal year in June — to begin implementing the ideas coming out of the task force meetings.

The task force is a coalition of agencies, professionals, officials and individuals in Franklin and Hampshire counties and the North Quabbin Region spearheaded by Franklin Register of Family and Probate Court Merrigan, Donelan and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.

The latest meeting brought together about 75 people, and subgroups are at work developing strategies in the areas of education and awareness, law enforcement and recovery.

Coordinating the task force’s subcommittees and gaining a definitive grasp on the extent of the problem would be among the administrator’s first tasks, Donelan said.

“We continue to try to gather data on the exact nature of the need here in the county, the extent of the crisis we’re facing,” Donelan said.

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan spoke of the need for better data at the latest meeting of the task force, in January, saying that better data will strengthen applications to the state government and grant organizations for money to fight the problem. Sullivan said two University of Massachusetts graduate students will be working to gather this data in February and March.

The state Department of Public Health and other agencies gather fatal overdose and drug treatment statistics, but these statistics are often general and never fresh. The latest DPH death statistics, available in a provisional report released in December, cover the year 2011.

“And of course our big push right now is Narcan. This person could help with a coordinated, commonsense approach to potential distribution of Narcan in the community,” Donelan said. Narcan is a brand name for the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.

The earmark is included in a supplemental budget making its way through the state approval process.

Reached in Boston Wednesday afternoon, Kulik said “It’ll pass within the next few minutes; it’s still on the floor of the House; we’re wrapping it up and by the end of today it will have passed and moved on to the Senate, and I believe, weather permitting, they’re intending to take it up (today),” Kulik said.

Kulik confirmed the supplementary budget’s passage Wednesday evening, and said he expects it to pass the Senate and governor’s desk as well.

If approved, the $40,000 will pass through Donelan’s budget. Donelan said he is talking to the Franklin County Regional Council of Governments about installing the administrator in its Greenfield offices.

Any future funding remains to be seen in the annual state budget, typically voted in late spring.

“Definitely this is not a short-term problem,” Kulik said. “I’m hopeful that as we are now working on preparing the fiscal year ’15 budget we’ll be able to continue this work. So yes, I’ll be looking to do that as we look at the next fiscal year.”

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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