Greenfield Town Councilors vow to fight heroin/opiate addiction

GREENFIELD — As Greenfield continues to struggle with a heroin and opioid addiction problem downtown and throughout many of its neighborhoods, Town Council is looking at how it might be part of a solution, including advocating for a youth director and program, more drug education in health classes in public schools and teacher training.

Precinct 7 Town Councilor Karen “Rudy” Renaud said her committee took a first step this week by inviting Registrar of Probate John Merrigan, who co-founded the regional Opioid Education and Awareness Task Force, to discuss the drug problem.

Merrigan said the town can begin helping by seeking state and federal help, developing youth programs, incorporating more drug education into its health classes and training teachers to identify and deal with the early signs of heroin use and addiction.

“Drug problems kill the people who have the addiction and destroy entire families,” said Merrigan. “We have to do something.”

Merrigan said once the Town Council reorganizes on July 1, he and task force Coordinator Marisa Hebble will go before all 13 councilors to start talking about ways it can help.

Precinct 5 Councilor Penny Ricketts and At-large Councilor Isaac Mass will join the council on July 1. Both said during their campaigns this spring that they intend to make fighting the drug problem a priority.

“This has to be a team effort,” said Merrigan. “That means town councilors, the mayor and other town leaders.”

Merrigan suggested the town include local leaders like the town’s Director of Health Nicole Zabko and Recreation Director Christy Moore.

“We’re trying to encourage as many people as possible to get involved,” he said.

Merrigan said task force members believe bringing back things like after-school activities, a youth center and community centers to keep children busy would be a good start.

“We need a lot of education and awareness,” he said. “We can’t ignore this.”

Renaud said her Community Relations and Education Committee will continue to invite people like Merrigan and Maureen Donovan, who heads up the Safe Schools Smart Schools program, to its meetings so members can stay abreast of what’s happening in Greenfield and the surrounding area.

She said she would also like to hear from everyone and anyone about what they think the council, as a legislative body, can or should do to be a part of creating an environment where drug use is not as prevalent.

“We’ll continue to have public forums where the community has a place to discuss and debate where they feel the town should place its priorities as far as this problem is concerned,” said Renaud. “We’ll keep inviting representatives from the task forces and Safe Schools to our meetings to stay involved in the most meaningful way possible.”

Renaud said councilors will also keep an eye on and influence local and state policies concerning housing, transportation, public safety, health education and recreation for youth, which all seem to have an effect on whether a child becomes a drug addict.

“We all seem (the five-member committee) to be in agreement that bringing a youth director and youth commission back to Greenfield is a key component of creating an atmosphere where drug use is less of an option, especially during the hours between 3 and 6 p.m., which is the highest risk time for youth,” said Renaud.

She said if a majority of the community and Town Council agrees, councilors should let the mayor know that the Town Council will not pass next year’s budget until it includes a youth director.

Several years ago, Mayor William Martin removed the position, as well as the youth department, from the town’s operating budget, saying there were plenty of other options for the town’s youth, including the YMCA. The town was spending about $40,000 a year for a youth director and department necessities.

“We will have to vote on FY 2016’s budget next May, so we have 11 months to figure this out, if we start now,” said Renaud.

Community Relations and Education Committee members are: Renaud, Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner, Precinct 8 Councilor Karen Shapiro Miller, Precinct 9 Councilor Norman Hirschfeld and At-large Councilor Mark Maloni.

“This is a huge problem that isn’t going away any time soon,” said Renaud. “It’s going to take a lot of work and collaboration to solve. Going forward, the most important thing is for us to remember that we are all in this together.”

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